Understanding the Concepts Behind Emotional Design

Car design Source: Dietmar Rabich Emotional design may not be a much talked-about concept but it is everywhere these days. Promoting an emotional response from a user, customer or client is what the design concept is all about. You can see it in product design, especially with consumer electronics and cars, for example. You will also often find it at play at some of the best website designs around, such as e-commerce platforms, social media outlets and high-quality online casinos. Whether it is something you can hold in your hand or is only available in the virtual world, the role emotional design has to play should not be underestimated. What are the principles behind it?

The Role of Emotions

Humans are complex beings and even though we think that our responses to objects and services are entirely rational, they are much more susceptible to emotions than we might think. What's more, emotional responses to stimuli can come about much quicker than intellectual ones. When you see a brand new products, for example, you are often responding to it at an emotional level even before you try it out. Just the look and feel of a design may be all that is required to generate emotions in us all. Furthermore, it is not always noticeable that emotions are at play. You don't need to feel tears welling up or a sense of euphoria to have responded at an emotional level. Sometimes, the emotions we feel even go unnoticed. They are there, though, driving our thought processes and buying decisions all the time. Visceral design fork Source: Katerina Kamprani

How Designers Use Emotions

You can think about a service interface or a product purely in terms of how functional it is. Over and above this will be how reliable you think it is which is a slightly more subjective response. Then, there are considerations about how easy – or not – it will be to use. In emotional design, a further level of response is considered, too. This is often described as how pleasurable the service or product will be, when used. Of course, sensations of pleasure are an emotional response. And research shows that if you think that something you buy will bring pleasure, then you are also more likely to consider it to be useful, reliable and functional. It seems that emotions play a big part in determining our supposedly rational responses, too.

Visceral, Behavioural and Reflective Design

In many designers' eyes, emotional design can be broken down into three concepts. These are visceral, behavioural and reflective design ideas. Visceral design attempts to manipulate our first response to something usually by appearance. For example, a classy or upmarket look will often gain a visceral response that something is more valuable or better built. Behavioural design concerns itself with how convenient something will be to interact with. With a product, behavioural design might be something like whether it is a handheld object or not, for example. Finally, when it comes to reflective design, this aspect of emotional design plays to our egos. It makes a statement that says something about us. For example, it might be a design that fits in with a certain lifestyle or that provides us with a story we can tell that fits in with our self-perception. Put together, visceral, behavioural and reflective design approaches can be extremely powerful concepts to deploy in the emotional designer's toolkit.


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