Getting emotional over UX design

Authors: Monica Granfield
Posted: Mon, January 06, 2014 - 10:42:02

First impressions, they are subconscious and visceral. The first impressions can make or break a product and an experience. A product that visually appeals to someone will draw them in. The next step is to engage the user in an experience good enough to leave them feeling confident and keep them coming back for more. Each of these aspects of design involves an emotional component that factors into the success of a product. While designing products I have noticed that the emotional component of a product is what really captures the user’s experience, but it is the least tangible and quantifiable aspect of that experience. 

Emotional response is an important aspect in the success of a product. But how can we quantify the impact of emotion on the usability of a product? Emotional response might begin as a reaction to the visual aspect of a design and then, like judging a book by its cover, the emotional response goes deeper. The root of the response migrates down to the ease of use and the utility of the product.  

Once the user is engaged and motivated to use and possibly learn the product, will the product continue to emotionally deliver? Does the product frustrate the user and leave them screaming, pulling their hair out? If a user finds the product difficult to learn and master, does the design leave an employee fearing for their job? These are not emotions that you want to occur in response to a product or experience. However, setting emotional goals falls below design goals when producing software, and even design goals are still striving for notability. If we can't gain traction on following through on the goals that are set, how will we measure against them? How will we know what emotions the product set out to convey and how they can be measured, so we can bring the data to the table?

Data is presented to stakeholders and executives to promote design and design direction within a company. If data is one of our main tools to drive design and usability, and emotional factors drive design direction, how can we quantify emotional responses to design? I am curious how anyone is currently bringing emotional evidence to the table to drive designs. In what format do you present emotional data so that it is well received? In the past I have shown videos and quotes to drive home emotional responses to products and designs. Are there any more effective methods we can use to quantify emotions to drive product results? I have thought about using an emoticon scale, similar to one for measuring pain used in the medical community. But this might rely on the observers interpretation of an emotion or the participants willingness to communicate their true feelings, and people are not always good at sharing or interpreting feelings. Maybe a better solution would be the use of technologies that interpret reactions and quantify them for us?

I am also curious as to how much you consider emotions when you design and whether you iterate on your designs based on emotional feedback. Almost twenty years ago Don Norman began speaking of emotion in design. I once mentioned Norman's thoughts on emotion in design at a job interview, circa 1995, and well, as you can imagine, that opportunity did not materialize. However, with the publication of Norman’s book Emotional Design, not only has the software industry taken notice of the impact of emotions, but business in general is interested in how to gain insight in improving products and experiences via emotional impact.

Emotions are the root of all experiences. I love my new car; I hate my new vacuum; I had a bad experience at that restaurant; I run my own business and I couldn't do it without "that" software; I love my job but I can’t stand that they use "that" software. These emotions are the end result of the design of a product or an environment. We are human and we run on emotion, so I am curious to hear how others in the design community are embracing the idea of defending and promoting positive emotional experiences in our designs. 

Posted in: UX on Mon, January 06, 2014 - 10:42:02

Monica Granfield

Monica Granfield is a user experience strategist at Go Design LLC.
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