Design and Emotion: Designing for Mood

‘Getting in the mood’ is the name of a paper I’ll be presenting at Design and Emotion in Chicago 5-7th October 2010. Since I’m getting in the mood for the conference ;-), here are some highlights of my latest thinking on mood, product design and interaction.

1. Currently product designers are missing out on mood.

More attention is paid to design for emotion than mood. Much of this has to do with the current state of mood research in product design: virtually non-existent.

Industry is starting to embrace mood in design and many examples now exist of mood sensitive design. In the image above, the free iPhone app called Glow offers lets users contribute a mood rating for specific locations they visit. Mood sensitive wallpaper reacts to heat changes; even environments like Virgin in-flight cabin lighting also induce and sustain moods.

2. Mood is surprisingly used in a limited set of products and environments.

Mood “effects” can be easily added to products, environments, social networking sites and games. It is more difficult to design for mood in websites or web applications for example. Light, sound and intelligent algorithms can all aid in inducing and sustaining moods. For example, is an ’emotional internet radio’ that analyzes the mood of songs for ‘musical feeling’. detects the sentiments of Twitter posts. At airports, advertisers are using interactive mood walls that change when you walk through them to pull the passer by into the ad, change their mood and impact an impression.

Why aren’t more products mood sensitive? I think mood is often left out, like fun, because it is considered a frivolous or non-essential aspect of the user experience. Yet even in information processing tasks mood has been show to improve users processing ability of specific information (Zhang and Jansen 2009) and to improve information seeking behavior (Zhang, Mimi and Jansen 2009).

Mood is a cousin of emotion. Emotion is a strong differentiator in user experience as I wrote about in this previous post. How does mood build on emotion? Products that impact mood must first provide strong emotional experience (Desmet and  Hekkert 2007). Think of emotion as as an event that occurs during  user interaction. Mood is more of a background variable that sustains across time. It’s this ability to sustain emotional events that appeals to me. I think as interaction designers, we need to be working at that level.

3. Mood is challenging to design for because it is thought to be too difficult to measure.

Most of the Design and Emotion community focus is on emotion and bypasses mood. The main reason is that emotion in design can be measured, mood is not so easy. However this doesn’t excuse the lack of effort- mood is as powerful as sentiment or emotion and requires more serious study. There are a few instruments for measuring mood, e.g. the Mood Induction Procedure tests positive and negative states before interaction (Wensveen et. al. 2005) but more mood metrics and design for mood frameworks are needed.

Mood impacts long term user adoption, the more we keep users in a good mood, the more they will be able to sustain desirability, pleasurability and emotional aspects of design key to creating the “Wow” experience.

Best wishes,

Frank Spillers, MS

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