Design & Emotion Blog

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Emotion research in the design process is vital
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Consumers seek “personal fit” in products

Last week I saw the famous American/ Indian management guru C.K. Prahalad in a TV interview for Dutch television. He recently published his new book “The future of competition” which talks about future business survival being only dependent on what consumers want. He used a doctor’s visit for an example: until recently we used to go to a doctor and blindly take the medicine or treatment he or she would prescribe to us. Nowadays we have access to so many different sources of information besides the doctor alone, that we are able to form our own opinion about a suitable treatment. This results in an interaction between doctor and patient to come up with the best possible treatment.

This example struck me! This is exactly what is happening in all consumer related fields, no matter whether it concerns a service, an interactive or normal product: consumers take charge and are becoming more and more aware of their own awareness. Consumers demand a perfect ‘fit’ between them and the product. Examples can be found perfectly in the car industry, where for many years consumers have already been able to customize the product to their personal demands. A basic car model can often be customized with sportive, classy or practical attributes.

What’s the use of investigating emotion in the design field?

Sometimes people ask me: But, what’s the use of investigating emotion related to design; what extra value does it provide? Well, I think the answer lies in what Prahalad talks about in his book. Consumers and thus product users are becoming more and more focused on that personal fit. Each product they plan to buy has to live up to their personal demands. You can imagine that emotion will have a very big part in choosing such a “personal” product. Investigating the effect of product design on user emotions is therefore vital in the process of getting to understand the end-user. When we know the effect the design has and which emotions it elicits, designers can start to separate different types of emotional reactions and thus different types of users. In this way it is possible to approach different types of personal demands by different design features. Looking at what the car-industry has been doing for many years, we should perhaps consider designing versatile products where users can put together their own personalized product by choosing different design features.

An important point Prahalad makes is that on the one hand consumers have their opinion and are critical in buying their “personal product”; on the other hand they appreciate and even need a company to take on the role of expert and guide. In the design process this would mean that a designer should use his or her expertise in designing the product, but must not forget to do extensive user research to know what it really is what the consumer desires to buy and use. A result would be an interactive design process where there is a constant contact with consumers through user research. Because different people can feel different emotions with the same product, emotional research provides a good way to see which elements in a product should be made versatile and which emotions each element does or should elicit.

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