UX and Emotional Design: Why They Are Not Mutually Exclusive

We are steadily inundated with creative UX presences, whether it be the bright new kiosk placed in front of our local grocery store, the Hallmark card section beautifully displayed inside it, or the new marketing campaign ad for your favorite online store. We see a variety of designs daily, and as a result we act or react accordingly. Why? Well this question I’m sure can be answered through years of scientific discovery and analysis, but the simple truth is there’s a natural symbiotic relationship between design and one’s perceived user experience.

I’ve been a User Experience practitioner for over 16 years; however, from conception, we are all product users involved in an emotional relationship with design, whether realized or not. As UX designers, UI developers, or Product engineers, we try to affect and are often on the forefront of negotiating our user’s state of mind in order to gain agreement on what should happen next (whether from a design strategy, or product strategy perspective). Realizing how critical a change in state-of-mind is to one’s experience(s) is key. Whatever the design medium, once interacted with, the hope is our designs evoke a positive user emotion so users feel good about what is/was presented to them. Remembering what data/content was interacted with is second nature when it comes to remembering the feeling had while attempting to interact with it. Positive or negative, feelings help us remember experiences, whether these are feelings of frustration or feelings of ease:

  • “I LOVE shopping on the xyz site; the e-commerce experience is simple and makes me feel empowered.”
  • “The xyz application is horrible; there’s a lot of available information, but the search feature frustrates me given its limited features.”
  • “The exercise gadget I just purchased looks great on my wrist, but the way it displays my health data makes me feel like I need to pull out a dictionary.”

Just as interpersonal relationships are viewed as successful when there is a healthy balance and agreement on critical paths (e.g. What is this? Where are we going? Is this the right path?), the relationship between UX and Design is viewed by the same emotional measuring stick (e.g. What is this? What am I doing? Is this the right path?). The parallel is uncanny! Think about it… within both relationship types, there seems to be about 7 key factors:

1. Soft skills

In order to create designs that evoke positive user emotion, a fair amount of “effective” communication with your users is required in order to get a sense of what they want/desire. This same type of healthy communication is warranted when involved in an interpersonal relationship.

2. Collaboration

In both types of relationships, collaboration is needed from all sides in order to create and maintain positive emotional energy.

3. Positively changing one’s behavior

Whether in times of friction or moments of uncertainty, the ability to positively change one’s behavior related to matters of the heart, or how one interacts with a system/application, is a huge win and step forward in the right direction.

4. Building and maintaining collective brilliance and experiences

Dating, courtships, and marriage mirror designing in the sense that all strive towards a level of collective intelligence, wisdom, skill, and experiences
second to none. The better the experience, the more memorable the feeling.

5. Enabling continued progress throughout a system vs a specific touch point

In both types of relationships, the trick is creating and maintaining progress as a whole, not a specific piece. When testing out a design, if users don’t feel as though steady progress is being made as they interact with different pieces (e.g. navigation, links, search, browse, etc.), they tend to bow out. This same sentiment is often felt in relationships as well when progress isn’t maintained.

6. Working across spectrums vs silos

Regardless of the type of relationship, positive emotions are usually evoked when users feel empowered and as though they are involved in something bigger than themselves. With design, having the ability to span and access a variety of data and content is just as empowering and sacred as in a relationship, being able to feel as though you have access into all the areas of your partner’s heart.

7. Focused on both strategy and one’s state of mind

As mentioned earlier, interpersonal relationships and the relationship between user experience and emotional design are about planning and strategy in an effort to positively affect one’s state of mind. The hope here in both cases is one’s changed mindset leads them to continue on with the experience(s).

So taking into account how we quantify and qualify one’s perception of us and/or our designs…

There’s a clear parallel between these two that has been around since the beginning of time. We are all visual creatures with our own unique variance of “sight.” Just as our sight creates the desire to help us approach someone, show and maintain interest, change our perceptions etc., as it pertains to a relationship, our sight also evokes feelings and emotions as we see and work with different designs. As UX designers, it is our hope and job to ensure those emotions are positive. Also, continuing to look at the parallels of design and emotion and effectively validating if/when a design elicits the intended user emotion, certainly helps UX focus on what’s needed, which areas are favored and which ones warrant some improvement. In the end, continuing to take these parallels and map one’s journey to their emotional state in order to understand and improve PPA (Path Pain Areas) and their effects, helps UX designers to develop better journeys and evoke more positive emotions.