Think about your experiences when you watch a horror movie, go on a date with someone you like, or have an argument with a colleague. Fear, happiness and anger would probably be the first words that will pop up in your mind to describe how you feel in such situations. In fact, these are among the basic emotions that are universally present in every human being. There are, of course, tons of other emotions that we experience in our daily lives.
Although it is an integral part of our everyday lives, the word “emotion” is not the easiest to explain. It refers to a complex psychological state that consists of subjective experience, physiological response and behavioural response. They are experienced subjectively, because even if they are more or less common among people, there are subtle differences in the ways they are uniquely experienced by each and every individual.
This psychological phenomenon can also cause involuntary physical changes in our bodies, such as responding with a pounding heart to the movie “The Ring”, experiencing butterflies in your stomach on when you are on a date with someone you like, or a face turned red from the rage of an argument. The behavioural response is probably the one that is most easily associated with emotions, such as letting out a scream when we are scared, smiling when we are happy and talking with an increase tone of voice when we are angry.
But as human beings, have we evolved to experience emotions? What are their adaptive values in our lives?
Emotions serve an invaluable purpose for our survival by preventing us from experiences that might be harmful and making is alert to potential threats. The fight-or-flight response elicited by our autonomic nervous system is the perfect example of how emotions involuntarily prepare us to take the right action in order stay alive. For instance, when we are in traffic or having a bad day, this response mechanism enables us to physically fight or run away from our stressful experience.
Emotions also play a key role in being understood by others and for us to understand others. They foster communication and connection by displaying important cues about our psychological state in a given moment. Our behaviours would tremendously differ if we sensed that our friend was more sad than angry. Being able to match the right responses to the right emotions builds meaningful relationships and aids effective communication. In fact, it has been proven that the ability to understand and manage emotions is one of the fundamental skills that drives success in social situations. The value of being “book smart” cannot be undermined, but in today’s highly interdependent world, being “people smart” — an aspect of emotional intelligence — seems to be as important as analytical intelligence.
Besides, emotions are integral parts of our decision-making processes. Most of us would claim that we could be totally rational if we wanted, but even if we believe that we are acting on pure logic, emotions do have an influence on he decisions we make. For example, they accompany us when we choose what meal to get, which holiday destination to go to, or what we should buy with our next pay check. By affecting the way we make decisions, emotions inevitably drive our actions.
This is why the term “emotional design” is a buzz word for the world of UX, because the ultimate goal of designing digital products is to lead users to take some action, whether it is making users buy a product, donate to a charity, or sign up to a newsletter.
It is highly likely for users to take the desired action if they are accompanied by the right emotions while interacting with a given product. The key purpose of emotional design is to elicit the appropriate emotions in users and alter their perceptions of the product so that products are perceived more desirable.
In order to come up with such designs, it is important to understand the mechanism behind how products induce emotions. Don Norman identified three levels of emotional design that user respond to. Our very first reaction to the superficial features of the product, such as whether or not we find it appealing to our eyes, is addressed by visceral emotional design. Secondly, behavioural emotional design addresses how usable the product is and whether it creates a satisfying user experience at the moment of interaction. Most importantly, reflective emotional design strives to create a connection between users and the product beyond the moments of engagement. The idea is that the product should make an impact on the lives of users, attach meaning and value to the product that will make them want to go back and use the product over and over again.
Putting emphasis on one or two of these categories will surely result in a better design compared to designs that only address user rationale, but it will not be sufficient to create products that users are loyal to.
Emotions that we feel towards our loved ones are what makes us feel attached to them and what creates space for them in our lives. When designing products with similar intentions, all three layers should be kept in mind. After all, design is all about establishing connections with users. What better way is there than targeting emotions?