Designing for Emotion in User Experience

smiley faceTo be human is to be emotional.  Emotions are an important part of our genetic makeup. They allow us to form social bonds and help us engage with and navigate the world around us.  Engaging with technology is a big part of that world.

As UX’ers we look to remove friction and make products and services easy to use.  But usability alone will not make our customers value or continue to use our products. In order to engage with our users at a deeper level, we need to look to design experiences that connect with them on a more emotional level.   We need to design emotional experiences. 

Let’s first remind ourselves what emotions are and how they come about:

  1. We experience physiological changes such as changes to the autonomic nervous system e.g our heart rate speeds up
  2. We interpret that response and experience a feeling e.g. we become frightened
  3. Our facial expressions and body language may change e.g our eyes widen
  4. This can be followed by a change our behaviour e.g we run away

Of course, how individuals interpret or react to situations can vary; what might be frightening to one person might be exciting to another.   However, we humans do share many common traits and inbuilt reactions to help us chose correct responses in different situations e.g being frightened/wary of loud noises or flashing signals on a website.  Having a knowledge of how the human mind works, in general, is our first tactic in creating more streamlined pleasant experiences.

How to understand your customers thinking: Mental models 

mental model defintion

Even before trying our products, users will have a ‘mental model’ of how they expect our product or service to work. It is likely their mental models will be based on experiences they have had with similar products.  They will have their own ideas of what works well and not so well in such an experience.

Knowing more about the mental models of our user groups will aid us to remove any likely friction points in the flow and create more intuitive journeys that better met their expectations.

How to truly connect with your customers; developing empathy

empathy definition

If we want to connect with our customers, we need to understand what is working and what is not working with they are engaging with our brand/service. And in particular, to discover if there are particular areas they are struggling with.  We need to develop empathy with them.   And how do we do that?  We need to better understand what is going on in their world.

Walk a mile in your customer’s shoes

There are lots of ways to collect data on our customers but if we truly want to develop empathy with our customers and how they experience our product, taking the research out of the lab and observing customers in their natural environment can be very powerful.  Diary studies are a useful ethnographic tool to capture this data.

Diary studies and customer journey mapping. 

With diary studies, participants record their interactions with a product or a brand over a period of time. They report on what they are doing, thinking and feeling at those times. From this data, we can construct customer journey or experience maps to represent their experiences. These can be useful in highlight any particular issues customers are having in the journey.    In particular, knowing the points in the journey that elicit strong emotions. whether they are negative or positive,  can be very useful.  As it will pinpoint areas in that journey where we can forge stronger connection with our customers.

Designing for Human emotion

from Google

Emotion is a difficult concept to explain, nevermind to design for.   Even the exact nature of emotion still remains something of a mystery; when does an emotion become actually become an emotion? Is it when we consciously interpret that feeling in our brains or even prior to that? The debate continues.

However, we do know that the more emotional experience we have, the more we both remember it and the more we connect with it (for better or worse).
If we want our customers to truly value our brand, we need to look to forge emotional connections with them so they are more invested in the experience and less likely to switch

To do this we need to first understand more about how people think in general and the biases they use to navigate the world. We can then look to speak to those biases in our designs to create smoother more intuitive journeys  Couple this with a good understanding of what are the most important and emotional areas of our customer’s journey will allow us to focus our efforts on eliminating negative aspects and amplifying positive ones.

This should allow us to create better, more positive experiences that resonate and connect with our customers on a deeper level.

Further Resouces 

The design of everyday things – Don Norman

An emotional experience – UX Factor blog


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