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Emotions in User Experience Design

March 25, 2019 - Suresh-anand

Users today have a sea of products to choose from, often products that are similar to each other. So, it is natural to wonder, how a user/consumer chooses a product or service, based on what criteria? How does a user move from a trial-purchase to repeat-purchase to regular-purchase of a product? How does a buyer become a follower of a brand? An important aspect is “Emotions”.

Let’s ask another question – What could be the percentage of users who perform rational analysis while making an online donation or while e-shopping? Recent surveys indicate that emotional decisions outnumber rational responses online. This implies that presenting appropriate content at appropriate moment can significantly increase the probability of influencing a customer’s financial decisions. Emotions can be elicited immediately or over time by physical products, digital products and services that users come across or use in their everyday life.

Feelings and emotions are what make us human and help us use our judgement to distinguish between good, bad, safe, dangerous etc. This can be applied to the product and the user who owns and uses them. Technology does affect emotions of humans in their everyday life. For example, a website or an app helping the user to easily order food from their home can make them feel happier, whereas any trouble while booking a ticket elicits distrust and negative emotions.

Emotional response is a function of the feelings and the experience a person encounters during the interaction with the product either consciously or sub-consciously. Users experiencing positive emotional response such as joy, pride, relief, surprise, satisfaction, curiosity are repetitive users of the product or service. For example, leader boards on online course sites motivate repeat users to upkeep their rankings. Similarly, instead of the system error pages like 404, presenting smart and beautiful error pages would invoke positive emotions.

We have talked about emotion, emotional response and how they are important for a product design; but achieving it is quite difficult because emotional response might vary from person to person. Representative studies by researchers, scientists and psychologists show that there are many common characteristics of successful product design .

One such researcher is Don Norman. He mentions that there are three levels of emotional system that help predict emotional experience and create the desired emotional connection of the product with their users. They are:

Visceral level, which connects the user to the “appearances” or “first impressions”. This level of emotion is generally automatic and mostly out involuntary for an individual.

Behavioural level deals with how quickly and correctly the user is able to use the product, that is the usability of the product that makes the user feel smart by using the product. For example, usage of consistent button positioning and styles, offering voice navigation support for ease of navigation address the behavioural level.

Reflective level entails the user’s reflections about the product before and after using it. If the user is able to tell stories and advocate the product, it satisfies this level. For example, users may talk about how cool they found the one-click on-boarding process through the mobile app of a leading bank.

Focusing only on functionality is not sufficient. Designers need to understand users’ psychology, and identify what they require from the product beyond merely fulfilling functional aspects. Tools and principles like Plutchik’s wheel, Maslow hierarchy of needs, Triune brain model, Gestalt principles can help designers assess and measure the potential emotional response.

These techniques and knowledge can be used to understand how a design is perceived, and help create products to provide effective emotional design, that is, functionally correct, unique, and great looking design for compelling and engaging experiences for online and mobile app users. These experiences can lead to competitive advantage and improved business.


Book – “Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things” by Don Norman

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2 thoughts on “Emotions in User Experience Design

  • Well written article, and agree on most of the points shared. In todays digital world where we have already moved far away from the human factor in almost any industry be it shopping, banking, etc..the presence of a emotion while we interact with this virtual world is very important and really makes a difference.

  • True. Customer empathy can help in understanding and improving emotional touch. Good share.

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