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Dan Hill is the driving force behind Sensory Logic. Dan Hill is President of Sensory Logic and a recognized authority on the role of emotions in consumer and employee behavior.

Inspired by breakthroughs in brain science and facial coding, which correlates facial expressions to specific emotions, Dan challenges traditional ideas of understanding and measuring people’s decision-making process for consumer insight testing. Recognizing that the body doesn’t lie, Sensory Logic utilizes both verbal and non-verbal methods and has developed a systematic approach that accurately reflects the new scientific model that intuitive, and often subconscious, experiences drive consumers toward decisions that eventually determine a company’s market share and profits.

Dan received his Ph.D. from Rutgers University following studies at Brown University, Oxford University, and St. Olaf College. His book Body of Truth: Leveraging What Consumers Can’t or Won’t Say, was a Fast Company Book of the Month nominee and was rated by DDI Magazine as one of the three most important business books of 2004. His new book, Emotionomics: Winning Hearts and Minds, was released in September 2007 and has received notable praise. Dan Hill is a frequent speaker at business conventions from coast to coast, as well as in Europe and Asia.

The interview below is a result of an email conversation I had with Dan. Also many thanks to Gijs Huisman of SusaGroup for his valuable input.

Hi Dan, thanks for taking the time for this interview. In your book Emotionomics you propose a method of emotion measurement that uses facial expressions. Could you describe how this works?

Facial coding offers a chance to tap into consumers’ intuitive, often subconscious emotional responses. It originated with Charles Darwin, and is based on three facts: 1) the face is the only place in the body where the muscles attack right to the skin, hence great spontaneity; 2) humans have more facial muscles than any other species on the planet, hence the wealth of data; 3) even a person born blind has the same facial expressions, hence the method’s universality across cultures (despite display rules that do vary some but it’s the same muscle movements that correspond to the same emotions, only the intensity and duration of the display will vary across cultures.) At Sensory Logic, we use the system of Dr. Paul Ekman – the Facial Action Coding System – to review digital video files down to 1/30th of a second to decode which muscles are moving, and which emotions consumers are therefore feeling.

What kind of business relevant conclusions should be drawn from the measurement of specific emotions?

Positive vs. negative responses is only a start. Knowing that somebody felt angry (often because they’re confused about how to use a product, for instance), or scared (because they don’t get what the product is about), or skeptical about its value, or really happy (a true smile) vs. a contrived, social smile is great data that enables clients to understand the real nature of people’s reactions and thus ways to improve the design, or advertisement or whatever is under consideration.

Your true confidence in the science and benefits of facial coding reveals that you probably do not believe in any self-report methods in measuring emotional experience. Is that the case? And, if so, what is your criticism on this type of methodology?

Self-reports face numerous problems, which can be summarized as the fact that there are things people can’t or won’t say. The can’t say is because there’s much that happens for us intuitively, subconsciously. The estimates are that between 1-5% of our thought process is fully conscious, tops. The won’t say is due to social pressures to confirm, to play nice, etcetera, or because people don’t really make the effort to be articulate or discriminate more precisely how they feel. In general, having people think their feelings rather than feel their feelings is bad science and bad research. So, no, I don’t especially trust people’s answers; have you ever been lied to you in life?

On which levels should emotions be incorporated into businesses? What should be the priorities? For instance with corporate climate, advertising strategies, etc.

The great, crippling myth that much of business operates under is that utilty is enough. Well, a product’s features can usually be imitated over time, or may not even be understood very readily by consumers. The key is the benefits, especially the emotional benefits, and how they are designed into the consumer’s experience and advertised in a way that will emotionally connect. There are so many ways in which emotions should be made part of business planning, with achieving a better connection with employees during the stressful period of a merger of acquisition being merely one additional example.

Designers usually have a very specific structure in the way they go about a new design. How can they use the findings of facial coding studies in their design process and in which stages are they most effective?

A designer needs to be inspired, and find that inspiration within. At the same time, however, for the design to be commercially viable it has to connect and work, on a sensory-emotive as well as rational , utilitarian basis, for others. The insights gained from facial coding can be instrumental in helping a designer avoid having a blind spot in regard to something that may not be connecting in the way intended.

How should we strike a balance between the rational and the emotional in our design decisions?

The rational aspect is often table stakes, getting in the game. The product must do what it is supposed to do. But in a very crowded marketplace, getting people to fall in love with the design is a huge commercial advantage. The extent to which it is striking, pleasing, et cetera, helps a lot. The rational, functional aspects of the design should leave breathing room for the emotional connection to still happen, by which I mean a very complicated design requires too much cognitive load. Nevertheless, trying to present too many sensory-emotive wows can be troubling, too. When I was a poet attending workshops, we used to say: when you sacrifice your favorite line from the poem to make it organically work, then you knew you were making progress.

And how should we achieve a shift from functional to emotional design?

The shift from a rational to emotional focus is too simplistic; it’s more a matter of accommodating each aspect, but especially the emotional aspect that gets its heart cut out often in the later, production stages due to cost-cutting. Facial coding can help protect against that happening thanks to scientific data that can prove to numbers-oriented senior management that to save a euro here or there may cause the whole thing to collapse in terms of its appeal, costing a lot more money in lost earnings in the end.

When SensoryLogic studies the emotional response to a certain product of a client, you study the facial expressions of the subjects (which reveal the ‘true’ emotions) and compare them to what people say (which reveals what people want us to believe how they feel). I can see a dilemma here for designers.
Let’s say we are looking at an iPhone. I am explaining how cool I think it is, and that everybody I know has one: I love it! At the same time, my ‘true’ emotions reveal that I feel a bit uncomfortable and even frustrated. This could mean I don’t like it that much at all, nevertheless, that probably wouldn’t stop me from buying one! How do we deal with this difference as designers? I mean, in the end, turnover also counts, right?

There is a social aspect to which products succeed in the marketplace, of course. One’s own emotions can be influenced by knowing what’s trendy. A cover for that is to ask a hypothetical question that establishes the product is “hot” and see the degree to which people change, emotionally, after you get their own true, individual “read” or response first.

This way of measuring emotions seems to demand an expert’s eye, which can be difficult for some smaller size design companies to get access to. Is this methodology of measuring emotions in relation to product design dependent on experts only? How easy is it to educate people that work in design companies in facial coding?

Sensory Logic is at work with a partner on automating facial coding. That will enable companies to supply video to us to be coded more quickly, less expensively, and with a greater volume of coding possible in general. Topline coding is probably possible for most sensitive, vusually-oriented, detail-oriented people to accomplish. But we code down to 1/30th of a second, so it takes very careful people to do it well. Plus, there’s the training aspect. At present, and until the automation is complete, there’s no business incentive, frankly, in training rivals. Once the automation comes on line, we intend to provide topline training in facial coding to the market.

In an interview with the magazine “Auto Experts” you compared the front ends of cars with faces: they both give out an emotional message. What according to you is the relation between the perception of the front of a car and the perception of a human face. Isn’t a car just an object?

“Love the grill!” someone commented on the Internet on this photo

We’re influenced by everything around us, buildings, the landscape, and cars, too. I’m not personally into driving a car with an angry or disgusted face, but the spirit of the age means a lot of people want to show a hostile, tough-guy image to others to get people to back off, because it’s considered cool, et cetera. Being edgy and coping an attitude projects confidence, after all. So a car is not just a car, of course, but a reflection of our self-image and a second face for us, in the same way that our house, our pet, et cetera may also signal our personality, socio-economic status, and outlook on life.

Thanks Dan, for sharing your insights with us!

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