"*As published on Forbes.com here"

In the spring of 2014, I did what so many young fathers do to earn their good dad badge: I took my family to Disney World! We got to experience the sights and sounds that make Magic Kingdom so… well, magical. As I reflect on that experience, three moments stick out.

First, if you’ve been to Disney, you know that getting a family picture on Main Street with the castle behind you is a must. However, my son Nicholas (then a toddler) wasn’t thrilled about stopping for a photo after being in the most magical place on earth for only two minutes. The second moment was Nicholas trying to feed a giraffe off the hotel balcony. Finally, I’ll never forget the moment when I whispered in Nicholas’ ear, “you can become anything in life if you simply believe” as fireworks exploded overhead. Those tears were real!  

In all, I spent 14 hours and hundreds of dollars to build a magical day, of which I fondly recall just nine minutes. What happened during the other 13 hours and 51 minutes of that day? I spent time and money that felt right in the moment, so why don’t those moments register today?

It goes back to what Chip Heath described in his book The Power of Moments—I’m recalling the “peak moments.” These moments were designed by Disney to capture my attention and tap into my emotions. Through these moments, Disney drives brand preference.

Peak moments work, but they can also be expensive and difficult to create. No brand, not even Disney, can create an experience that is all peak moments. It’s in the small, seemingly less memorable “valley moments” that we also find opportunities to elevate our brand experience.

By designing “valley moment” experiences around subconscious mindstates, you can improve your brand experience overall and even increase the potency of your peak moments. Let’s look at how this approach works.

Taking a New Approach to Experience Design

For those new to this concept, a mindstate is a temporary state of mind that finds us under high emotional arousal, relying more on nonconscious factors, and therefore more susceptible to influence.

Traditionally, experiences have been designed to trigger mindstates during peak moments. However, this approach can be very expensive and is somewhat risky. After all, if the moment doesn’t resonate with your customer, it will be a costly miss for your brand.

The new world of experience design takes a more holistic approach where the valleys and peaks are created to build on one another. It’s less risky because you’re building around a psychological strategy, not a handful of tactics. Unlike peak moment design, which is focused on the long-term benefit of brand preference, mindstate experiences can drive short-term benefits like higher customer satisfaction and increased likelihood of in-the-moment purchases.

Yes you should still design for peak moments in your brand experience, but you shouldn’t rely on those moments alone. By building your experience around a mindstate and focusing on improving a few valley moments, it’ll raise the water level across the board. 

Designing Around a Mindstate

To get started, remember that you’re designing for the mindstate you want people to have, not for the people themselves. Every day, our attitudes and beliefs shift. Design for people and your experience is more likely to miss. Building around a psychological mindstate gives you a cleaner path forward.

There are eighteen mindstates, each a combination of a motivation (achievement, autonomy, belonging, competence, empowerment, engagement, esteem, nurturance, or security) and a regulatory approach—either promotion (striving for success) or prevention (trying to avoid failure)—that dictates people’s overall experience. 

For this article, we’ll use the example of designing a 5K race for those in the optimistic achievement mindstate, which I’d summarize as:


You’ll do what it takes to achieve your goal and savor the sweet taste of victory.

A 5K race has obvious peak moments, like the rush you get starting the race and the thrill you experience when you cross the finish line. But how can we use the optimistic achievement mindstate to create an experience that improves some valley moments during the race?

The sunk-cost fallacy is a cognitive heuristic (or mental shortcut) that people often use in this specific mindstate. To apply this heuristic, you could place signs along the course that remind racers of how much time, sweat, and effort they’ve put into the race. They can’t give up because they’ve already invested so much into finishing.

People in this mindstate also tend to be less empathetic. People and circumstances are often seen as obstacles to be overcome on the way to achieving their goal. Tap into this competitive fire by putting race bibs on the back of each racer that challenge those behind them with messages like, “Come on, you can’t let me beat you” or, “Keep pushing—aren’t you tired of staring at this bib?”

With optimistic achievers, you want to find ways to help them set firm, distinct goals and recognize moments of success. Before the race, you could prompt racers to set a goal for their finish time and then break that down into smaller goals that will keep them on track. During the race, by setting up timers at strategic points, it would allow them to make sure they’re hitting those milestone goals and inspire them to keep pushing toward the finish line.

Of course, don’t forget to microchip the bib so they know their official finish time, and if you can, send a message to their phone congratulating them on reaching their goal!

Optimize for the Valleys and You’ll Raise the Peaks

You can apply a mindstate-based approach to any experience your brand creates: a concert, a service call, a customer care call, and more. Simply identify the mindstate you want to build the experience for, find a few valleys and apply behavioral-design to these. When done right, designing for these valleys will make the experience more memorable and enjoyable for them, and more profitable for you. 


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Topics: Shopper, Motivation, Management, Pop Culture, Experience Design