How understanding emotions can elevate design.
Recently I’ve become fanatical about the AppleTV show Ted Lasso. About an American football coach who moves to England to coach fútbol, this show has pulled on my every heartstring and transformed me into a cheering fan for the made-up AFC Richmond team. I’ve chanted with the crowd, picked my favorite player, and (spoiler alert) mourned the team’s relegation at the season finale. This show has brought out of me all of the emotions real sports tend to bring out of us.
And like sports, we also become emotionally invested in our products, services, and devices—maybe not as emotionally invested as any fútbol fan, but pretty close. I mean, we really can’t help it. Humans have feelings, and those feelings affect how we perceive things in our world. As a designer, it’s essential to understand that human emotion will result from what we create, whether we intend for it or not. So, by proactively considering our user’s feelings during the design process, we can orchestrate the proper emotional response and build a better product. This is part of design thinking—this is empathy.
In the book Designing for Emotion by Aaron Walter, Walter creates an analogy between psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and user-experience needs. According to Maslow, humans have an innate desire for self-actualization (living up to their unique potential)—but to achieve that, other conditions must be met first. Starting at the base, we first must meet our fundamental physiological needs for survival. Once those are met, we can fulfill the next layer of safety, and so forth, until we finally reach the top. Walter’s user-experience pyramid operates the same way.
First and foremost we should design our products to be functional, followed by reliable, then usable. But we shouldn’t stop there. Next, we should turn our attention to pleasurability and design for our user’s emotions as well.
Not only will designing for emotions improve your user’s experience, but it can also benefit your business objectives. Users will most likely choose your product over another equally capable product if yours offers a pleasant emotional experience. As Miklos Philips explains:
“As technology levels the playing field, almost anyone can bring together a team and technology to create functional and feature-rich everyday consumer products. What is a more difficult task, however, is having a deep understanding of your customer’s motivations and behavior. Translating them into effective emotional design that is elegant, beautiful and truly unique will play a vital role in delivering an ideal customer experience which in turn will lead to competitive advantage and growth.”
Now that we understand the value of emotional design, how can we put it into practice?
While conducting research on your audience, place yourself in their shoes and consider the following:
1. What are your user’s feelings?
In the early 1970s, psychologist Paul Ekman identified the six basic emotions of all people. They are happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, and disgust. Become familiar with these words and use them to understand your users.
2. What are your user’s needs?
Identify your user’s emotional needs as well as their functionality, reliability, and usability needs. This empowers you to design with every layer of Walter’s user-experience pyramid in mind.
3. Create “feel/need” user statements that tell your user’s story.
This exercise will remind you that your users are real humans with real feelings and help you stay connected with them throughout the design process.
My insert product here makes me feel enter feelings here because my needs for enter needs here are/are not met.
Here are a few personal examples to help illustrate the concept.
Product: Merrell Hiking Boots.
My Merrell hiking boots make me feel capable and energetic because my needs for comfort and durability are met.
I first bought these boots for a one month trip to India in 2013. They were the only pair of shoes I brought with me, so I was a little nervous they’d be uncomfortable or fall apart, and I’d regret my purchase and packing decisions. However, they were so comfortable that I never got tired of wearing them—they actually made my first backpacking experience that much more enjoyable. Now, 8 years later, the same pair of boots have traveled with me to every country and hike I’ve been on and are still in perfect condition. Every time I put these boots on, I’m reminded of all of the memorable experiences they’ve been there for, and it leaves me feeling grateful for the past and ready for the next adventure.
Service: Headspace Meditation Subscription
My headspace meditation app makes me feel overwhelmed and confused because my needs for clarity and simplicity are not met.
I’ve been using headspace for a few years now, and recently they’ve been adding a lot more content. Before, I would hop on and simply search for a single meditation or course…but now the app is filled with videos, workouts, music, articles, and kid’s content. It’s too much stuff—especially since most of it is not relevant to my simple needs. I guess I should feel happy that I’m getting a lot more content for the same annual fee, but mostly it makes me miss the good ol’ days when headspace was solely focused on providing high-quality meditation guidance and content.
Device: Kindle Reader
My kindle device makes me feel relaxed and prepared because my needs for convenience and practicality are met.
I love physical books. I love flipping through the pages, writing in the margins, and dog-earing the corners. What I don’t love is carrying books. Whenever I travel, I always pack more books than I can realistically finish, then curse my bulky, overweight backpack as I walk down long airport terminals. Having a kindle has drastically improved my ability to take the books without the baggage. It’s small but mighty and one of my favorite travel companions.
Hopefully, this article has made you feel more understanding of emotions and ready to design with them in mind. If you have any thoughts or questions, I’d love to hear them in the comments below.