Looking at the products around us, most of the designs speak to our emotions. We like or dislike it, we feel disillusioned or motivated when we use it, and we even love or hate certain colours. I will not buy an orange tool for my kitchen, even if it is better than it’s competitors. All designs ultimately produce an emotion, a fact incorporated in an old adage in the user-experience (UX) professionals world: “interaction with any product produces an experience (emotion) whether it had user experience or not.” All end products elicited an emotion from their audience; therefore, UX-designers are concerned with how an user interacts with and responds to an interface, service or product.
The response to a product or service or interface is regarded as an emotion; therefore, UX-designers do not only strive to design usable, functional products; they also strive to generate a certain emotional effect — usually a positive one — on a user while he or she uses the product. If the design is good, the response will be maintained throughout the user journey. Therefore, emotional design focuses on an interaction with the designed product that affects the user. In this article, I am using Philip’s guidelines to evaluate some of the products and interfaces I am using on a daily basis.
Approaches to designs
First, we need to look at some approaches to designing products, interfaces, and apps.
Functional design, or utilitarian design subscribes to the “form follows function” style prevalent since the early 20th century. This approach is based on the idea that the shape of an object or building should be based mainly on its function and purpose, and not on its aesthetic value. Current approaches to designing incorporates the aesthetic value to speak to the emotions of potential buyers of the products. (see the example from Philip’s article).
Philps refers to brutalism as the twin brother of utilitarianism. The form follows the function, but the product is also put together with the least amount of effort, the cheapest materials available and with zero regard to appearance or the human experience as can seen in the picture of a block of flats in one of the poor areas of the Western Cape, South Africa.
The flats are functional, but not pretty at all.
Aesthetics and Perceived Usability
Two Japanese researchers studied in the 1990’s two different layouts of controls for ATMs to invesigate if aesthetics affects perceived usability (Philips). The versions were identical in function, but the interfaces were not identical regarding their aesthetic value. The researchers found that the ones with attractive interfaces were perceived to be easier to use.
Philips argues that Braun, a very successful design and manufacturing company founded nearly a 100 years ago in Germany, is famous for its minimalist, elegant designs which captivated people since they are functional, but also simple, refined, good-looking and consequently a joy to use (see images below (Philips).
Utilitarian designs that are simply functional and feature-rich do not please people any longer. According to Tinker Hatfield, a shoe designer at Nike Nike basic designs are always functional but great designs will also say something to the potential users.
The Emotional Design Pyramid
Maslow (1943) postulated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Based on his hierarchy of human needs, emotional design can be put on a pyramid that illustrates its importance (Philps).
People perceive functional and attractive things to work better than other things. As illustrated in the Japanese ATM experiment, a product’s aesthetic value can affect its perceived usability. According to Philips products that include a pleasing aesthetic and anticipatory design can lead to such a degree of customer satisfaction, that minor frustrations and imperfections with those products will be forgiven.
During the 1990’s and early 2000’s Blackberry took South Africa by storm. The phones were not good-looking, but the free BBM function made up for an ugly design due to the high cost of Internet access in South Africa. And then Blackberry took the BBM function away, leaving potential buyers with the opportunity to choose any other phone. Currently, iPhone’s, LG’s, Sony’s and Samsung’s are the phone of choice, based on their people-pleasing slick designs (image Philips).
Emotions and The Brain
According to Philips, negative experiences focus the brain on what’s wrong; they narrow the thought process and make people anxious and tense. We feel restricted and frustrated if a website or an App is badly designed and doesn’t perform to expectations. In fact, this feeling can grow into a form of anger known as computer rage. Computer rage races our pulse-rates, forces us to click away from irritating sites and to delete Apps in frustration. When design goes wrong, extreme emotions can be produced.
Good emotional design elicits pleasure and a sense of security and safety (Philips). Until 1998, all PC boxes were white, and then Apple released translucent, candy-colored iMacs that signaled more than a renaissance for Apple; it sparked a widespread industrial design revolution since it found the sweet spot (image from Philips).
Steve Jobs, the CEO of Apple Computer, stated that design is much more that what a product looks and feels like, it needs to work well as well. According to Bruce Claxton, Professor, Design Management at Savannah College of Art and Design, we seek out products that are not just simple to use but also a joy to use. In this regard, my Dell Inspiron 13, from the 7000 series serves as an excellent example.
Many manufacturers offers tablets (iPads) and computer, but Dell integrated a computer and a tablet to improve usability and user experience. Although I love my Apple products, they are not user-friendly in airplanes and when I work in bed. The screen of my Dell folds further back and can even be folded all the way back to change my computer in a tablet (see figure below).
From Passive to Interactive
Not long ago, the objects around us were mostly “dumb,” passive, one-way machines due to a lack of an interactive relationship.
My mixer could not talk back, but my new Thermomix machine can, a feature that allows me to form an emotional relationship with her. The interactive, chip operated Thermomix asks me if I want to see a recently used recipe or the interactive cooking book.
She also warns me when the lid is not inserted, and when a speed is insufficient due to the temperature of the liquid in the bowl.
My Apple watch reminds me to stand up and walk for one minute, a feature that can save my life since I forget to do it when I am working on my computer. Only when my legs cramps I realise that I have dismissed the haptic of my watch and sat for more than an hour in a certain position.
According to Philips such interactions cause an emotional relationship with our “machines” which give a rise to anthropomorphism or the tendency to project intentions, human qualities, behaviors, emotions, and character traits onto objects. If the product works well, we feel satisfied and altogether delighted because it puts what we were looking for at our fingertips at the perfectly right moment.
However, the relationships with ‘things’ can also cause a potential for negative emotions to kick in when ‘the thing’ is not doing what we want it to do. In such cases, we feel frustrated and not in control. Annoyance and irritation may arise with the possibility of escalation into anger if the aggravation persists. Therefore, good designs should be accompanied with excellent guides and help features to reduce the buid-up of negative feelings.
Guidelines for an emotional approach to designs
User-experience strategies need to include designing for emotion (Philips). They can use the power of user research and product testing to effectively set up and gauge the emotional impact of their designs. User-testing, deep research and subsequent touch-point mapping that identifies pain points, can afford designers with opportunities to identify the frustrations users may encounter while using the product. Designers should strive to eliminate these frustrations, but they should also find opportunities to bring customers pleasure by changing critical moments into positive emotional experiences.
Three levels of design: Visceral > Behavioral > Reflective
Designs needs to work extremely well on three levels, namely, visceral, behavioral and reflective (See Don Norman’s seminal book on “Emotional Design.”).
First impressions are most important; therefore, the design can be regarded as effective when the potential user’s first response is that they want the product. This immediate, deep-level, positive, and instinctual gut reaction to a product’s design can create a competitive advantage. Visceral design also affects the perception of a product’s credibility, trustworthiness, quality, appeal, and even perceived ease of use. My first impression was that the Apple watch is fun, exciting, tough, speedy, uncompromising, but also intimidating.
First and foremost products must work well for people, thereby contributing to its users’ satisfaction. Behavioral design focus on how the product or system, as evaluated by the potential users, meet their requirements and needs. It refers to pleasure associated with effectiveness. If users perceive it as something they can master and which makes them feel smart; they will buy it. Therefore, it has to feel good, look good and perform well. If it doesn’t work as advertised, it gives rise to an immediately negative emotion. Up to date, the only problem I have with my watch is that the heart rate monitor was troublesome (See figure