By Frank Spillers

Design and Emotion UX

 Two years ago, after returning from the Design and Emotion conference, I shared an extensive post on Emotion Design, a topic that has a lot of potential to open up new conversations about user experience and usability.  This week, the fifth conference, Design and Emotion 2006 takes place in Göteborg, Sweden. Since I wanted to attend the conference this year but couldn't, here is a practical definition of design and emotion that I hope you will enjoy.

So, what is emotion design?


1. The recognition that a sterile focus on function is not enough anymore in usability (emotion needs to be addressed as well). Here's more on Graphic Design vs. Usability...

2. The advances in neuro-science that keep showing us how emotion plays a crucial role in decision making. This research paper shows "proof" that emotion influences all things cognitive: Integration of emotion and cognition in the lateral prefrontal cortex  [technical PDF]

3. The usability community waking up to emotion as something we can use to design better products, not just an "interesting" data point. We are finally developing a framework to channel emotion based data into the construction and definition of new *user experiences*...

Practical Definitions of Emotion Design:

As a Designer:

Emotion Design is when you take the feelings of delight (satisfaction, gratification, contentment, pleasure) you get from interacting with a design and apply it to your own product! By the way, I think that's what all the new Web 2.0 energy/hype is all about...

Designers (graphic, visual) are very good at getting into the "feel" of a design- that's why we call it the "look and feel". However, emotion design is not about advocating for your own preferences. It's about merging the empathy you have for users (user centered design teaches us to advocate for our user's feelings not our own), and applying those feelings to design decisions.

Some of the greatest designs have been created from doing "deep empathy". I have been seeing a lot of writing (including lately about how they made a girl cry) about Apple's design arrogance and apparently, they do a lot of this internal "deep explore" stuff, over user-centered design. The new i-pod shuffle (little box with wearable clip) seems to have been designed from studying the criticism of this highly insightful analysis (What's wrong with the ipod?).

As a Marketer:

Emotion Design is when you find the core of your product's value proposition, and what differentiates your product from an experiential perspective, and then align everything in your marketing efforts around feelings that help propel the product toward a good user experience (poster with research insights).

In fact, marketers, brand strategists and advertisers probably have a long history of valuing consumer emotional responses to product design or product experiences. Focus groups have been used since the 1950's to elicit and understand product appeal.

As a Developer:

Emotion design is when you help develop something that works for the user as they expect it to, and that makes no sense to you.

Developers tend to organize the world differently to end-users. Typically, a good developer will over-ride emotions (after all, coding is the science of "applied abstraction", or mathematics that produces tangible results).

Error messages (error handling is currently cited as in the top 2 user experience problems by Forrester Research) are typically an area where you can see that developers and end-users are from different planets!

A recent set of error messages at Flickr and YouTube utilize "on the fly" emotion design. Beats a lousy 404 error or SQL server DB crash!

View Flickr error message: Download Flickr.jpg (this is real)

View YouTube error message: Download youtubedown_1.jpg (this is real too!)

Google's "I'm Feeling Lucky" button is a subtle example of emotion design- or it may just be a developers joke...

As a CEO, VC or Innovator:

Emotion design is when you understand the marketing and business value of positioning a product around the emotional-based elements of product interaction and then empower your marketers, designers and developers to properly research and design for the user experience.

I have been hearing a lot of executives in the US saying "we want to be the Starbucks or Google of...". New innovations require changing unconscious behavior. Unconscious behaviour requires understanding that behavior. In order for a design to have emotional qualities, elicit emotional reactions and utilize the emotions a user has during and with a product interaction (See this technical paper with some thoughts from my five years of deep thinking and research in this area), you need to follow the principles of experiential bonding (free poster with the concepts).

Download Experiential_Bonding.jpg

Emotion adds greater context to the term "User Experience"

Remember, the term "user experience" was coined by Dr. Don Norman at Apple in the early 1990's for the chief reason of expanding awareness and scope of the usability of a thing. He wanted to define usability beyond the functional questions of "Is it easy?; Is it intuitive?". Norman understood that usability touched so many different areas, Sales, Marketing, Business team decision making, cross-channel impressions and events including but not limited to post-product and out-of-box experiences (for tangible products). "User experience" was the term that stuck. (Also called "Customer Experience, evangelized by Mark Hurst but first coined by Lewis Carbone in the 1980's).

Did Don Norman know that his hunch to look beyond ("It works! It's easy to use!") would be the quest that led him to the revelation that:

“Up to recently, however, I could not make the connection between usability and aesthetics - they were distinct spheres of my life. Now, however, I have figured out the relationship” -Don Norman around the time of writing the book Emotional Design.

If you haven't already had it, I think you need to add this epiphany to your to-do list.

Best Wishes,

Frank Spillers