Designing with Emotions in Mind

April 30, 2016

Let’s take a minute and do a quick experiment. Are you sitting down? I want you to think of a conversation that you recently had – one that really meant something to you. Got it? Now close your eyes and try to remember everything you can. You may find that you can’t actually remember conversation at all. Don’t worry, that’s not unusual. We tend to remember the emotion associated with the conversation more than the conversation itself.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou

This isn’t limited to our relationships with other people, but extends to the devices, apps, and services we interact with. We all know there are certain ‘tricks’ we can do as designers and developers to influence the behavior of the user (words like ‘Add to Cart’ and ‘Register’ do better than ‘Buy’ or ‘Join’), but do we have a good understanding of the emotional relationship the user has with our products and how that affects their success?

Two different design paths

The design and development field is constantly changing. We are lucky enough to be learning together in a time when there are so many different schools of thought as to what is “right”. The last couple of years have seen many different paths to success. These ‘storylines’ approach the user from very different perspectives. Here are two that I think are especially influencing the way we design:

  • Conversion Driven – This storyline is one where we design in order to accomplish goals as quickly and efficiently as possible. This is all about completing tasks – adding products to carts, signing up users, or placing orders. The user feels successful when their tasks are done quickly and without errors. These are quite easy to measure using Google Analytics or GoSquared and to set KPI’s for.

  • Emotion Driven – This method focuses on creating services that are easy-to-use and accomplishes our goals by creating enjoyable experiences. It is difficult to measure the success of this storyline (even though Apple keeps telling everyone about their Customer Satisfaction rates), but don’t undervalue it. Users will continue to come back for each iteration of the product and will be excited to use it.

Truly successful products incorporate multiple design philosophies like these into their interactions with their user. As an example, Spotify provides users an easily searchable library of music and quickly provides them with the outcome they desire (playing a song).

Personally, I can’t remember what the first song I played using Spotify, but I can clearly remember feeling empowered. I had almost every song available to me with just a few taps on the keyboard and loved the experience from day one.

Emotion as a design philosophy

Just like how no one was talking about UX Design a few years ago, there were even fewer talking about Emotional Design. Perhaps this is the first time you’ve even heard the term, but it’s been around for decades. Consider the successful campaign that Volkswagen had for the “new” Beetle that had people smiling around the world. As our interactions become more and more digital, this emotional approach to design is becoming increasingly important for the apps and services we use every day.

“an experience for users that makes them feel like there’s a person, not a machine, at the other end of the connection”

From his book Designing for Emotion, Aarron Walter describes how important emotional experiences are as they make a profound imprint on our long-term memory and create “an experience for users that makes them feel like there’s a person, not a machine, at the other end of the connection”.

What’s your brand?

One brand I believe is completely devoid of any emotion in its design is one often praised as a design goddess… Apple. If you really think about it, Apple is very sterile and neutral in all its designs. So how have they become so successful? The simple answer is YOU. Apple allows you to insert emotion into their devices – your photos, your contacts, your apps. You may even prefer your current iPhone to a newer one because it is “personalized to you”. Apple provides you with a canvas to personally express yourself – somewhere to contain your emotions.

So, does that mean that you have to design your app has to say witty things and be supportive when the user is feeling down? Not necessarily, but considering how your app can affect the user isn’t a bad idea. For my personal ‘brand’, I’ve adopted a very personal style because it fits well with how I like to do business and it gives my readers and potential clients a good idea of what it’s like to work with me. I like to think my brand/services are something my clients feel good about and that makes me feel good.

So the question for this week is obvious:

What do you want your users to feel when using your product?

It’s honest, authentic, and accessible.

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