Emotion in experience design

By Meriel Lenfestey

Emotion is at the heart of experience design. As experience designers are we designing the mechanism to achieve specific goals? Or the functional relationships between brand touch-points over time? Or the emotional journey as we use products & services?

The answer is the latter. In doing so we will often tackle one or both of the previous. The mechanism and functional relationships are part of the story when creating a great experience. Done well they will purposefully deliver the appropriate emotions (delight, comfort, control, fun, interest). Done badly they will deliver the wrong emotions (confusion, anger, disappointment, frustration). In today’s social media connected world delivering the wrong emotions is an outcome brands need to avoid.

The creative disciplines of interaction design, information design, and functional design are colliding with the worlds of brand strategy, behavioural economists and advertising to create a genre of design which delivers emotional responses through good functional design.

Experience designers rationalise more than most people

Most experience designers rationalise everything. We’re motivated by effectiveness and efficiency. We come from the worlds of interaction, information and function. Some might say that means we’re not emotional. But rational and emotional are not opposites. We are all emotional creatures – we all experience rationalised and un-rationalised emotions:

  • Rationalised: Considered, grounded, conscious 
  • Un-rationalised: Instinctive, immediate, sub-conscious

Most people who experience the products and services we design will be more influenced by un-rationalised emotions than us. In addition to our greater natural tendency to rationalise, we have more motivation to rationalise because we’re close to the project goals and our attention is maintained for far longer. In the period before emotions are rationalised people are at the mercy of their imagination and unable to make informed decisions. Un-rationalised emotions can take over the rest of the brain in a millisecond, which can lead to irrational behaviour. This causes extreme reactions (Amygdala hijack) or simply lost sales, frustrated customers and poor reputation.

Note that rationalised and un-rationalised are personal responses. This is distinct from rational and irrational as they imply some judgement on the responses.

Context is important in designing for emotions

The emotions we want to trigger are appropriate ones. This means appropriate to the business goals, the user goals and the context. I was talking with a behavioural economist recently who cited a ‘great’ example of emotional design. The example was a billboard campaign by BBDO in New Zealand, designed to encourage safer driving in the rain. They employed shock tactics to raise awareness. When it rained the poster started ‘bleeding’.
Billboard 1Billboard 2

TV campaigns for stopping distances and drink driving in the UK have used shock tactics to raise awareness with great success. The difference here is the context. On such a rainy day where careful driving is necessary, anything which creates strong emotions and distracts the driver from attention to the road is a dangerous thing. A more appropriate experience design solution might have been to use the rain sensitivity to highlight road markings in some way - to reveal parallel lines which enhance the necessary emotions of control and focus, encouraging the driver to slow down.

The shock tactics could have been reserved for situations where the necessary emotions would not be affected such as TV campaigns.

As we design we must be aware of the emotions we’re creating

There’s a balance to be struck as we design experiences. As designers we need to be constantly aware of this balance to ensure we deliver the right solution to satisfy the end users and the commercial goals. I’ve created a simple tool which can guide this thought process to ensure that it stays front of mind through design and optimisation. (View full size image)

Graphic showing the process for evaluating design ideas

Designers should constantly move around this circle in developing and evaluating design ideas. Different designers will prefer to start in different places, but must pay attention to all three.

 

What do you think?