Emotional Design, a journey towards humanity

April 5, 2022

Emotional design is the puzzle piece that imbues digital products with personality. When emotions are triggered, a connection is formed between users and the product.

Dispassionate machines

The digital revolution realized one of humanity’s dreams, to live and interact with all sorts of machines. With time, machines stepped out of our collective imagination and into our homes. And as they got smarter, their importance in our day-to-day grew and so has our reliance on them (no wonder digital detox has also grown in popularity – but that’s another topic).

In the beginning, we were impressed with all products of technology. We wanted to interact with them, even willing to adapt to their way of communication. Now that we’ve gotten used to them, we really just want them to do their job while we go on with our own lives. Now the tables have turned, and we want technology to adapt to us.

The missing piece

Adapting to humans means going back for something that technological advancement left behind in its early years – humanity. Now that we’re past the novelty of machines and want to interact with each other, technology has to become friendly, at times invisible, and as human as possible. To do so, products and services have to let our human personalities shine through from behind the screens and apps. They have to provide an environment that fosters human connection and accommodates our unique characteristics. And that’s where emotional design comes in as a way to provide a deeper level of user experience.

So what is emotional design?

Emotional design cares about how users relate to a product or service and focuses on the role of emotions in design. It is everything that goes into evoking emotions in the user.  After all, machines are just that, they don’t feel (yet) – users do. Emotions cannot be put in the products we design, they live in the minds and bodies of our users.

As a fundamental human characteristic, emotions show us what is important. It is what makes us remember things, positive or negative. It is what defines whether we like and use something, or not. Emotional design is about crafting a connection with the user, letting them feel as if they were interacting with another person, and building a relationship as they use the product or service.

A little bit of history

Don Norman, who first defined Emotional Design in his ever-popular book Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things, described 3 levels making up our emotional system:

  • Visceral – the ones we’re born with. This deals with the appearance and the first impression of a design. The superficial qualities that distinguish two functionally similar entities. This is where branding comes in through the use of imagery, brand values, and colors
  • Behavioral – the ones that affect our behaviors and expectations. This is about the functional and practical aspect of products, in other words, their Usability. The behavior level is all about the emotions felt as a result of using products and how effective they are in helping us reach our goals
  • Reflective – consciously reviewing the past or thinking about the future. This is where it gets very emotional as it is the highest level of emotional design. This is where we view a product with a conscious and rational mind. It’s not only about the superficial aspect or about the functionality defined by the first two levels. What does this product mean to us as individuals? What does our usage of it say about us?

The combination of those 3 levels is what constitutes the complete emotional experience of a product.

A little bit of practice

That all sounds good but is still theoretical - we get it. So to bridge that gap towards the realms of practice, we decided to take on an emotional design journey as we redesign our website and share our insights along the way. We want to use this opportunity to let our website embody our personality and internal culture. So if you’re interested in this adventure, keep a lookout for future articles!

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