The Need for Emotional Goals in Design

The Need for Emotional Goals for Design

Adam Connor shared this brief insightful blog post that really caught my attention:

On emotion and experience (Thought for the Day)

If you aren’t at least considering people’s emotions, you probably aren’t designing for an experience.

Image of Mood Magnet from Creative Therapy Associates

What do you want your users to feel when they use your designs? (Mood Magnet © 1994 Creative Therapy Associates, Inc.)

I have written about the need to have empathy with our users before, but Adam has very eloquently and succinctly pointed out why it matters. If we are to design for experience, that has to be a total human experience, emotional as well as intellectual.

But wait, you say, I’m designing tax processing software? Isn’t filing taxes a purely intellectual activity and hardly a positive emotional experience? Study after study shows that even what seem to be purely rational activities require and are greatly influenced by emotions. For example, studies have shown that emotion is essential in decision-making, so much so that people who had suffered a brain injury that impaired their emotional capabilities had significant difficulties making decisions. Emotion in design, also, is not an unfamiliar or recent topic. Books such as Donald Norman’s Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things, published in 2004, and more recently, Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter explore the importance of emotions for successful design.

And yet we still need reminders like Adam’s post to consider emotion in the design process. Thinking about emotion has not been universally integrated into interaction design and usability work. How should we consider emotions in our design process? What are effective ways to integrate emotional goals into our functional and usability goals for a design? What are the appropriate emotional goals in the first place?

We have tools for measuring emotional response such as Microsoft’s Product Reaction cards (I’m indebted to Carol Barnum and Laura Palmer for sharing their experiences using these in usability research). Research also has been done on incorporating psychological tools into usability studies such as “Beyond Usability: Evaluating Emotional Response as an Integral Part of the User Experience, to cite just one example.

But well-established methods for integrating emotional goals into the design process are still lacking. Some of the authors mentioned share ideas, but these need to be adopted as a best practice in design teams. If you are measuring emotional success of your designs (or considering doing so), then one way to ensure early consideration of emotion would be to take established emotional response measurement tools and have the design team and stakeholders create an emotional “score sheet” that explicitly defines the goal state they’d like to see, with realistic considerations for context. The resulting emotional design requirements sit alongside functionality and usability requirements to inform the design process.

How might this work? If the emotional measurement tool is a semantic differential survey, for example, have the project team and stakeholders decide on an existing set of emotion adjectives define their own set of positive terms (Calm, Excited, In Control) that are most appropriate. Balance the scale with the antonyms for each positive term and have the team fill in the goal states. Taking the prior example of filing taxes online, perhaps Calm is a realistic outcome that you would want users to strongly experience while Excited might be asking a little too much, but neither do you want user to feel Apathetic.

That’s one simplified example for going beyond thinking about emotion to incorporating it into a our design practice. If you are already doing something like this, please share in the comments how you are currently setting emotional goals into your design work.

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