Emotion in Design

The most important thing about design is how it relates to people

“Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.” – Steve Jobs

Tapping into emotion is a must for successful design, no matter the market, the business or the person. If you can’t connect to your target audience there is no possibility of reaching out to your clientele, making a sale, promoting a brand, picking up a new customer or making an impact. That’s the key thing, tying your ideas with the person on the other side, impacting their life and making them think.

Good designers, in any market place and at any level, will always think about invoking emotion in their consumer base. In today’s society, one saturated with technology, it is something often forgotten or misused. Emotion should be at the apex of every business, creating an identity. Top designs, logos, brands, adverts, programs and applications attain their emotive links with their consumers by adducing certain feelings.

In the case of insurance companies their task is to focus on customer rapport, confidence, approachability and optimism. For tech companies their strategy focuses on wearability, usability, interface and longevity of product. In the example of sports brands their focus is on the energy, power and determination that goes hand in hand with sports fans and players. In many cases when design ignores how their target audience feel, the target audience will ignore the product. Emotion abuts great design; as a carrier, messenger and strategy.

The landscape of using emotion in website design

Emotional design has become a powerful tool in creating exceptional user experiences for websites. However, emotions did not use to play such an important role on the Web. Actually, they did not use to play any role at all; rather, they were drowned by a flood of rational functionality and efficiency.

We were so busy trying to adapt to the World Wide Web as a new medium that we lost sight of its full potential. Instead of using the Internet on our terms, we adapted to its technical and, at first, impersonal nature. If it wasn’t for visionary contemporaries such as Don Norman or Aarron Walter, we might still be focusing on improving processes, neglecting the potential of emotional design. Attractive products trigger our creativity and ultimately expand our mental processes, making us more tolerant of minor difficulties. Attractive products make problem-solving easier, which makes them absolutely essential.

User experience designer Aarron Walter contributed a great book to this new era of design:Designing for Emotion. In this book, he defines emotions as the “lingua franca of humanity,” the native tongue that every human is born with. He describes how important emotional experiences are because they make a profound imprint on our long-term memory and create “an experience for users that makes them feel like there’s a person, not a machine, at the other end of the connection”.

Foundation of good design

A couple of things form the foundation of any good design, whether the design is emotional or not. Why are we talking about the foundation of a design here? Think of the construction of a house. First, you need a solid foundation; then, you can start to plan the division of space and build walls. In Web design it’s the same; you need to know your internal design goals, who your users are and in what context they will use your website. Once this groundwork is done, you can get started on the design.

Internal design goals

Before you get started on anything, ask yourself what your own goals are. This does not mean you should put yourself at the center of attention for the rest of the process, but it is important to know what image you want to communicate, what your values and visions are, and how you want others to see you. With this knowledge at hand, you are armed to be very clear and consistent not only in your actions, but also in your appearance. A certain amount of continuity and predictability adds to your reliability, which is important for getting people to commit to a relationship with you.

Prospective users

Know who you are designing for. Your future users will be the people who purchase and use your product or website, so make sure you know what they want. General demographics will give you a rough picture of who you are targeting. By drawing a clear picture of their goals, how they are going to use your website, and what matters and doesn’t matter to them, you will learn how to target your users. Without knowing your prospective users, designing something relevant that is both usable and pleasurable will be quite tricky.

Context of use

Finally, think about the context of use. Knowing the situations and circumstances in which users will be visiting your website is valuable. Consider possible emotions that might be involved, and find out which role you and your users play. Be aware that knowing the context of use will make it easier for you to understand your users the moment they visit your website. It will help you reach out to your customers and to communicate with them more effectively.

How to invoke emotion?

There are a number of different avenues taken to implement successful emotion in design. We can target emotion in the company – identify the emotional qualities of the business and its products or service. At what level does the business stand out from competition? Does the company have a heartfelt story? Who runs the company, and do they have a story? We can target emotion in the market – how do you connect with your customers and satisfy their needs? Market positive emotions. This may be done by inciting mystery, curiosity, hope or anticipation. Play on their heartstrings with negative emotions such as fear, frustration or need. We target emotion in ourselves as the designers – put your personal touch into design, your attitude, experience and emotion. Who are you designing for? How do you connect with them? How can you make that important click? Namely, identify the qualities associated with yourself and your client, their uniqueness and make them appear inimitable.

Relationships: sex, family and life matters

Designing a concept, product or service can be paralleled to building a human relationship; a friendship, a marriage or a family bond. Building rapport with your consumer base is the most important take-home message for any designer. Building trust, dependence and confidence in a relationship are the keys to making it prosperous. Emotionally manipulating consumers is a quick fix strategy often employed by start-ups, but a technique that will only give short-term success if you cannot keep up rapport. Design must be genuine, or else the consumer will move onto a successive superficial fix or look beyond you to find something long-term and guaranteed.

Building relationships with empathy, sympathy and sentimentality – grasping emotion

So, from our analogy between building relationships and designs we can see how important it is to be honest, welcoming and determined to pull through with the service you provide. Emotion in design is not intangible but you must think beyond simple feelings and grasp deeper and meaningful thought. You may start with simpler emotion such as fear, love, anger or pride but always strive to dig deeper to emotion such as empathy, sentimentality, tenderness, protectiveness or sympathy. The more you delve, the more distinctive and specified you become, the more efficacious, overwhelmed and heartfelt your transmission will be.

Convey your message with deep emotion and connect with integrity. Although you must show empathy to your client you must also be able to critique, be a cynic and be honest. Be moved by the concepts you are building, explore the mindset of your client, be as thrilled with the product or service as your client is, share their excitement.

Conclusion

A key message to gain from this post is to not obscure the humanity of design with other demands coupled with branding, business and products. Of course, the technicalities must be focused, marketing strategies placed and the end-points envisaged but always leave space for emotional input. Emotional intelligence is a designer’s crucial capability. Technical, business and marketing savvy comes second.

So, how can you validate one is adequately and productively distributing emotion into design? Many designers rely on innate vision. For others, it must be conscious and planned, implemented at various stages in the design process, tried and tested. Great advice to any designer would be to relentlessly research emotion in design, understand the abstraction and reinstate this in new designs.

“Design is the search for a magical balance between business and art; art and craft; intuition and reason; concept and detail; playfulness and formality; client and designer; designer and printer; and printer and public.” – Valerie Pettis

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