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Emotion centered design impact in product design

Portrait Felipe Restrepo
Felipe Restrepo
7 min read

How can design trigger certain emotions and improve the way we interact with technology today?

How many times already have you read somewhere that we are living in the golden age of technology? It seems like every day we are pushing the limits of what seemed to be impossible yesterday. Until recently, the idea behind designing a product was putting a lot of attention on making it efficient and aesthetically pleasing. However, as we see an increase in research on the topic of user experience (UX), more attention is given to the way people interact and feel when using a certain tool or software. This concept of making technology adapt to users or human-centred design enables product designers to incorporate functions in a way that enhance the user’s experience, which can ultimately lead to better product usability.

What exactly is ECD?

Emotion Centered Design (ECD) is a way of creating a product that satisfies the emotional needs of humans, in which the main task of the creator is to find out how people experience certain products or services over time. Emotions are considered to be inseparable from the way we perceive the world. Every thought and action can be accompanied by a certain feeling. It comes as no surprise then that scientists, psychologists and product designers are working together to find a way to increase the usability of a product. The main goal in emotion-centered design is to create a feeling of delight in users while they interact with a product. Delight is considered to be a strong and positive emotion that increases the chance of the user returning to it. We experience certain emotions every time we watch a video on YouTube or interact with social media content. In a way, the emotional design tries to evoke a rush of positive feelings while we use the product in order to create a sense of desire when we are not around it.

How to incorporate emotions into a design

To better understand the human interaction with a product, creators need a lot of insight from psychologists. They can then use that data, and transfer it to user experience design in order to create something that sparks delight. Once they satisfy the basic needs of the user, which are functionality and reliability, designers can then focus on making the product usable and ultimately pleasurable.

Experts in emotional design mention three different steps that we have to take into consideration while creating a product:

  • The visceral reaction is the initial response that users have during the interaction with the product. It is a reaction that encompasses multiple senses and it triggers a response in our brain according to the input. That is the first reaction to a product and it varies deeply because it depends on a lot of factors. It is hard to determine whether the response will be positive or negative.
  • The second one we experience is a behavioural response - it’s a deeper reaction to the product, way beyond just the visual sense. It triggers a lot of questions in users’ heads: Where is this action taking me? Is this content satisfactory? Is this what I should be looking at? Is this the right tool for what I need?
  • While they are gathering the answers, the users would typically enter the reflective phase, where they would think about the product even away from it. While they ponder all these questions, they are also interacting with the product on a deeper level. Meaning that this is also the phase where people are contributing as well as sharing the product with other users. That’s where they can build a relationship with the design that can determine its longevity.

This is the typical cycle that every user goes through after which they can decide if the product satisfies their needs. If it created a pleasurable experience or they had a sense of delight, the chances of the user returning to the product are much bigger. However, it is important to realize that even without the initial positive experience, designers can always reevaluate the process in order to try again.

To achieve this, designers have to not only understand emotional design but have the skills of emotional intelligence that allows them to enter the minds of their users and create durable products. When we speak about emotional intelligence, we are talking about one’s ability to recognize and manage their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. In emotion-driven design, the key components of emotional intelligence are empathy, self-awareness and motivation.

Nowadays, It’s not enough for a designer to be creative enough to efficiently solve a problem, that person also needs to possess a set of traits that enable them to create a tool that will trigger a meaningful experience with the user.

Put yourself in their shoes

While practicing emotional design you need to look deeply into the motivations of users. Why do they use certain products? What is the deeper meaning behind that reaction? In order to get answers, you really need to think like the user, but also collect a lot of data from the potential ones as well. Typically, designers create different types of user interviews to collect valuable information. Once you create a pool of data, you can notice deeper meaning and see how culture, beliefs and background affect their decision-making process. In addition to that, designers also need to practice empathy. The best way to do that is to put yourself in the shoes of your audience and experience first-hand what it’s like to use a certain product. There are also other tools like empathy maps or storyboards you can create to practice empathy and form a closer bond with the future users of the product.

Once you incorporate all these aspects into the design, the bigger picture of the product becomes clearer and therefore it’s easier to create a better experience for the users that answers their needs on different levels. All of these tools could be a part of the effort to make the design more human-centered and a user experience that surpasses just efficiently solving the problem they have. In order to do that, good research on the matter is essential before the building phase. To build a product that creates an engaging and pleasurable experience you will most likely need a team of people that are able to incorporate all the aspects of both emotional intelligence and emotional design.

Emotion-driven design creates meaningful experiences that last longer

Technological advancement is happening so fast. There is something new, faster and better every day. And while we can’t deny it serves a good purpose of making human life easier, sometimes it’s hard to keep up and adjust to new things. We have also seen the importance emotions have in our everyday life. They are complex and complicated, however, the role they play in human behavior and interactions is crucial. Emotional intelligence and emotion-driven design are both concepts that gained a lot of popularity but are still considered to be new and emerging. In order to create the best tool available, a good combination between technology, design and human emotions is needed. As the designers make efforts to better understand their audience to create richer experiences, in the future we can expect tools and software that are much more intuitive and reactive. By having them, our experience with the product will spark positive emotions and invite us to return which ultimately makes the lifespan of the product longer.