Pleasurability and Emotion Design

Summary: Pleasurability and Emotion Design seek to differentiate UX for users and your business objectives. Pleasurability extends usability by making experiences usable but emotionally differentiated. The key is to discover and design emotional value for your users.

First, how did joy get removed from ease?

“Pleasurability” is the radical idea that users can derive emotional value from an experience beyond usability. Clearly, usability is important, but as a focus in UX, it draws from the principle of utility invented by the 18th-century philosopher Jeremy Bentham. The Danish usability pioneer Jakob Nielsen defined usability primarily with this utility focus. However, while in UX, we aim for “ease of use” (utility), we often ignore “joy of use.” In the early 2000s, Jakob’s business partner Donald Norman, the grandfather of Human Centered Design, discovered emotion as a critical design function. Why is our definition of usability so slow to catch on?

See Emotional Design: What does emotion have to do with design?

So, pleasurability reorients our priority toward a more comprehensive Human-Centered approach to design. Certain experiences have to be pleasurable, not just usable. For example, in healthcare UX patient experience. Hence an emotional approach to design.

The need for pleasurability in your design approach

Pleasurability, often thought of as “emotional reward,” is a user’s positive emotional response when interacting with a product or service.  Designing for feelings of delight, satisfaction, and joy helps create seamless interactions. Each delightful interaction becomes a micro-moment of positive reinforcement (or microinteraction), encouraging users to return and explore more, leading to increased engagement and extended or repeat usage.

Pleasurability has the potential to create lasting impressions that differentiate a product or service. How? It helps create memorable experiences that resonate with users emotionally. It extends beyond mere functionality and usability to infuse an element of surprise and delight into each interaction. Can everyday items put a smile on your face? Emotion Design says they can…see the salt and pepper angel vs devil image below.

salt n pepper emotion

Basically, humans are emotional and social creatures, and the products and services we use have the power to evoke strong emotional responses. Pleasurability fosters emotional bonds (we call this “synch” or rhythmic interaction) between users and product or service offerings. This is especially true in tangible products and service environments. Would you dare design an easy to use First Class flight experience without thinking about pleasure, mood, or emotion? I hope not.

first class passenger experiences pleasurability.jpg

Image above: Customer enjoys pleasurability on a First Class flight experience. “More champagne orange, please”.

Bottom line: When a user experiences delight and joy during product-service interactions, they are far likelier to form positive associations with the brand. Marketers also know this as experiential branding. This emotional connection cultivates a sense of loyalty and encourages users to become brand advocates, sharing their positive experiences with others.

The psychology behind pleasurability

To effectively implement pleasurability in Emotion Design, it’s crucial to understand the psychology that drives pleasurable experiences. Elements such as surprise, novelty, and aesthetic appeal trigger the brain’s reward centers, releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine that enhance feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. This physiological response reinforces positive behaviors, making users more inclined to engage with the product repeatedly. Designing with these psychological principles in mind allows designers to craft interactions that resonate deeply and leave users craving more.

In his book Designing Pleasurable Products Patrick Jordan discusses the role of emotions, aesthetics, and psychology in the user experience. He also introduces the concept of “pleasurable affordances,” which are features of a product that make it inviting and easy to use.

Also see this Slideshare webinar, Intro To Emotion Design- Pleasurability and Emotional Design covering these topics:

  • How does emotion factor into the user experience?
  • What is the impact of emotion on product user experience?
  • How can websites and web applications benefit from the latest insights in emotion design?
  • Is emotion a separate metric or related to usability?
  • How are emotional responses best measured?

Learn more, take our Emotion Design training

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