Design & Emotion Blog

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Designing for people; an emotional process.

This was the title of a presentation I recently gave for the in Leeuwarden, a city in the north of The Netherlands. I will hereby give a small glimps of what I talked about that night.

Why is there so much attention for emotional design?

First of all I wondered why recently there is so much attention for emotional design. In my presentation I gave three possibilities to explain this recent growth in attention.

1) There is more than functionality alone!
2) It was already known, but not yet referred to as such.
3) It is purely based on trendsetting and new ways to market a productÂ’s design.

There is more than functionality alone!

In his book “Emotional Design”, Donald Norman gives the example of the new Mini Cooper to illustrate this. It is forgiven for almost all of its flaws, just because this great-looking small car makes you feel so good.
Management guru C.K. Prahalad also points out that people nowadays have the time and ability to ask for more than merely function. Customization of products to truly personal needs is a must. In the seventees Harley Davidson started to sell extra parts to customize the original design of the motorbike to the ownerÂ’s personal wishes. The owner of every original customized design (with the result that no bike looks the same) is screaming: this product is me and I am this product! It meant the start for a typical lifestyle called Harley Davidson.

It was already known, but not yet referred to as such.

Another possibility is that the bigger companies with a long history of experience have already known for ages about the principles of emotional design, but never referred to it as such. Harley Davidson was a good example to illustrate this, just like specific parts of cellphones or personal ringtones that are for sale to customize your cellphone. Personal preference and emotions have played a significant role in the phylosophy behind these product design/ marketing decisions.

It is purely based on trendsetting and new ways to market a productÂ’s design.

The last possibility I gave, is one that is brought up many times in discussions I have with many different kinds of people. “Isn’t that just a new way to sell the product?”, they ask me. Well, I have to say that I can really understand this point of view. Nevertheless, designers and marketing professionals seem to be moving closer and closer to each others working fields. An example would be the new slogan of Philips Electronics, which was based on decisions coming from the communications department but will have a serious practical effect on the product design department. “Sense and Simplicity” will be a way to appeal to consumers who are looking for that emotional fit and simplicity in using a product, but at the same time it will have to be backed up by the real experience with the product and thus by the product’s design.

4 reasons why desiging for people is an emotional process:

1) People are emotional beings, who long to be stimulated in everything they do. Therefore, this emotional stimulus will have to be experienced with products as well.

2) This is my product that I am buying, you better make sure it ‘fits’ me! People are doing so well nowadays, that they both have the time and the power (money) to expect more from products than just functionality.

3) Better looking products work better! Even though the designer is sometimes ‘cheating’ on the person using the product, making the product look nicer will give him/her the idea that it functions better (see Tractinsky).

4) Even the designer can get emotional about it. Emotional design can seem difficult with many dangerous pittfalls, but when you succeed people cannot accuse you of having made just a lucky guess!

This has been just an extraction of the real presentation. You can download the powerpoint here though (in Dutch).

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