Objects, apps, websites we use on a daily basis like computers aren’t supposed to be a big pile of function anymore. Humans are curious beings, we like interactions and things that are responsive. This applies to the internet also. People are looking for a way to connect emotionally. As UX is evolving, new methods appear. However, that doesn’t mean they are entirely new. In fact, it goes way back to the core concept of User Experience.
Trust is one of the key factors when you wish to represent your product, service or yourself as a brand. It plays a significant role that determines how others will react to you in the first place.
Ever wondered how can you or your brand appear more user-friendly? More alive and human even if you communicate your messages for example over a webpage?
My goal with this article is to give a peek into the world of emotional design from a UX perspective. Some tips you can use when designing.
So what is emotional design anyway?
The expression might start to form little clouds in your head filled with trending emojis, funny error messages, the little T-rex from Google and so on.
This is partially right but this is just recent stuff. However it has been around for quite awhile now. Recently it started to gain more attention as new technologies evolve.
Donald D. Norman is the man behind the scenes. We can say that he’s the one who popularized the term with his book Emotional Design which apparently was his way of addressing the criticism of The Design of Everyday Things that was published in the late 80s. There he talked about “usable but ugly” products. In Emotional Design the wrote:
“Usable but ugly. That’s a pretty harsh judgment. Alas, the critique is valid. Usable designs are not necessarily enjoyable to use. And, as my three-teapot story indicates, an attractive design is not necessarily the most efficient. But must these attributes be in conflict? Can beauty and brains, pleasure and usability, go hand in hand?” — Donald D. Norman
It turns out that attractive products draw more attention, light up our fantasies. They are simply more interesting and interest is one step towards trust and tolerance. Yes, we tend to be more tolerant towards something that is designed to be catchy and functional at the same time. So when talking about emotional design what you do is actually designing the context itself that triggers certain emotions. In other words, you are designing for emotions.
The Maslow of Design
“A chef in a restaurant wants his food to be more than edible, he wants it to be delicious. As designers, we should want our websites to be more than usable.” — Stephen Anderson
It is basically the pyramid of needs translated into product design and it works like a charm!
Functionality — the foundation of your project, it starts with a great idea that has one single goal at this point. To work and serve a certain need. A good example would be laptops such as ToshibaT1100 back in the day.
Reliability — now you are at the point where people want something they can trust to work, not only function under one condition, but they can rely on it in multiple ways. After dealing with skepticism and proving his words by selling almost 10.000 of the model T1100 within the first year, Mr. Atsutoshi Nishida told the audience in a marketing seminar sponsored by IDC, that he has a vision. A vision of laptops being the size of A4 papers and having colored screens. Then libretto 50 was born in 1997 followed by 100CT in 1998, the smallest Windows 95 ever developed.
Usability — is often mixed with UX Design itself. In this context, it means, that people want more and what you did so far is impressive but not enough. This is a good thing, it means you are on track and have the opportunity to make your project future proof. Now you can think of form-factories, UI and so on. Going back to our example, the keyboard was the Achilles of the libretto. Users started complaining about being hard to type on it without failing too much. A year later a new solution was born focusing on highly on usability. It was bigger than the libretto, but it also had the ideal keyboard, plus it was the thinnest at the time.
Proficiency — you’re half way through the pyramid. This is where it starts to get really interesting. Your product is not only functional but usable and reliable also. Proficiency is the way of converting a well usable product into more convenient, by asking yourself the question:
“How else would the users approach my product?”
The evolution of mobile phones can be a great example to demonstrate this step. As laptops, mobile phones have their story starting with core functionality that the first portable phone by Motorola offered. Then moving on through upgrading cellular networks and shrinking the technology until it fitted into pockets made it reliable in many situations. Then a design company and an engineering company came together with the aim on usability and so Sony Ericcson was born and brought colors into the game. Then came smartphones — I skip tech in between then and now on purpose since the article would go off topic — with big colorful touchscreens that offer a new convenient method. Gestures.
Creativity — stands on the top of the pyramid. The most enjoyable part of all. Your ultimate goal is to provide a pleasurable experience towards your users. This part includes aesthetic beauty and innovative interactions, where people feel your product.
“This is where users say, damn I need this in my life, it looks so awesome!”
Designing for emotion
Key metrics that makes something emotionally valuable can be effort and success that walk hand in hand. Making things too easy will eventually lose value and interest. Instead, when designing make sure that you leave enough room for discovery. You don’t need to overuse tutorials, let them reveal your product and reward your users when completing a task or a series. Giving achievements and rewarding completion is a good practice that has been around for years.
Emotions are a bit more complicated to determine. People tend to hide their feelings and while asking them they might seem honest but that’s not the reality in most cases. This is where UX meets technologies such as face recognition or eye tracking. These can deliver objectivity into the game, allowing UX professionals to collect valuable measurable insight on unconscious feelings. This leads to a new way of sculpturing overall experience. Combining usability with data gathered by using mixed technologies.
Benefits of mixed technologies
How can UX Designers benefit from mixed technologies in practice? If we consider webpages as an example the different technologies can answer questions such as:
- Where users look the most, or first (pricing, photos, CTAs)?
- Which element “locks” their attention for the longest time period?
- Do they scan the content in following the desired pattern? (F or Z)
EEG, facial response:
- How do their emotions change during browsing?
- Where does their excitement “top-out”?
This is a more direct way of doing a research since it involves the user in the process. For example, self-report methods such as the DRM method can reveal:
- What was the most meaningful experience?
- Why did the user look at certain element?
- Why did the user feel a certain way when looking at elements?
- How did the user like or dislike a certain part of the webpage?
If we wish to describe certain feelings and connect them to different levels of engagements, it would look something like shown on the Arousal/valence model above.
Activated and Pleasant means the individual is:
Deactivated and Pleasant means that the individual is:
Deactivated and Unpleasant means that the individual is:
Activated and Unpleasant means that the individual is:
With the rapid development of technologies such as face recognition, eye tracking, EEG or AI I think, that we are getting a step closer each year to a new way of human-computer interaction. At the moment, we have apps that are functional, reliable and easy to use. Plus with the design trends behind us, they often look attractive. But still they can’t determine whether you have a good or bad day, are you in a rush or not and often what we experience and decide to describe with words doesn’t correspond and represent the truth.
Let’s face it, we are human beings we smile, we lie, we pray, we cry, we hope, we try.