Designing for emotion

Written on 26 December 2011, 12:40am

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I just finished reading Designing for Emotion written by Aarron Walter from A Book Apart, and I am quite impressed with the things I learned. I quickly want to note some ideas that left in my head after reading the book’s 7 chapters.

1. What is it? What are the advantages?

There are 2 main considerations before anything (and the author of the book correctly repeats them several times throughout the book):

  1. Design always comes after content. This means that quality content is always required. Carefully considered content and well-executed design work in concert.
  2. Emotional design comes after the standard design. The emotional design does not have to interfere with the base layers of the users hierarchy of needs: functionality, reliability and usablility.

What does it mean to design for emotion?
In a phrase, it means to engage your audience emotionally; and to do that you must let your brand’s personality show. Humans want to connect with real people.

The advantages of the emotional design:
1. it turns users into loyal users, even fanatics
2. the users end up by trusting the website/product/application, and they will be more likely to forgive any possible errors/mistakes
3. if done right, emotional design can eliminate the marketing costs. The audience will end up by doing the marketing for you, using the holy grail of the advertising world: the word of mouth.

2. Important ideas

And now quickly noting the other ideas of the book, and how they related to other opinions I came across lately:
Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs (physiological, safety, love, esteem, self-actualization) can be remapped for for user interfaces: functional, reliable, usable, pleasurable.
Baby face bias: humans are hard-wired to love babies, and with them – any cute face resembling the face of a newborn.

The takeaway here is not to make your website cuter. With a little consideration you’ll discover that behind every design principle is a connection to human nature and our emotional instincts. (Ex: the golden ratio in Twitter’s design)
-Designing for emotion – Chapter 1

-we use contrast to answer a fundamental question: is it good for me or is it bad for me?

Since people do not have an innate ability to objectively determine the absolute value of things, they instead use a process of comparison. People are constantly comparing things: products, services, places, ideas, other people, etc. This process of comparison is an integral aspect of people’s natural behavior […]
Colleen Roller – Decision Architecture: Designing for Decision-Making

simplicity goes hand in hand with the contrast. Simple interfaces like Tumblr’s signup form are having a high conversion rates because they eliminate all the distractions. The high contrast between the signup form and the remaining white-space is directing the users attention to the form and is making clear what they should do next (call to action). As you increase the number of high contrast elements on a page, you proportionally increase the time needed to perform a task, learn a system, and remember pathways.
-More on the same topic: the users are lazy. Don’t make me think is not only the name of the best-selling book from Steve Krug, it’s also a key principle in user interfaces. The users usually choose whatever it’s easiest for them to evaluate. Easier is better than better. When people can’t decide, they don’t decide at all (see the uxmag article above).
-The cost/benefit analysis:

your audience performs an internal cost/benefit analysis every time you ask them to complete a task. The results of this internal assessment determine whether or not a user acts.
Designing for Emotion – Chapter 5

-When logic does not offer you the solution, it’s the emotion that kicks-in: Emotion is the tie-breaking vote when many options are equally valid.
The rosy effect: As the time passes, it’s the positive memories (not the negative ones) that shape the people perfection (ex: they will not remember the small problems if the overall experience was pleasant). This makes room for another idea: do not seek perfection. Perfection is seldom possible. Perfection is seldom worth the effort. What matters is the overall experience.
Surprise: it’s the reason why your favorite song sounds better on the radio than when you play it yourself. The surprise amplifies the emotional response. Case studies: Photojojo‘s happy shopping cart and ‘do not pull’ lever.
Anticipation: it’s when you give the audience enough time to think about an undisclosed experience. It’s like the parents exciting the children with ‘the Santa is coming’. Case study: Twitter’s redesign. (open vs close systems: book vs movie)

3. The conclusion

I’ll leave you with the strong recommendation to buy and read the book. The 9 dollars for the electronic version are nothing compared to the knowledge you’ll gain about designing for humans, not for machines.

We’re not just designing pages. We’re designing human experiences.
When you start your next design project, keep this principle in mind: people will forgive shortcomings, follow your lead, and sing your praises if you reward them with positive emotion.
-Aarron Walter: Designing for Emotion. A Book Apart.

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