Designing for the User’s Emotional Journey

      Tyson_blog Tyson Kingsbury / July 9, 2019

Consumers like to think of themselves as being rational and savvy when making purchasing decisions. They believe conducting extensive research into different brands and comparing their features and prices means their choice will be a rational one.

Nothing is further from the truth. Emotion is the key driver of the majority of decisions people make. In fact, according to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of purchasing decisions are driven by the subconscious mind and emotion. 

Emotions are so important in the decision-making process that without them, we are incapable of making good decisions. 

Antonio Damasio, a professor of neuroscience at the University of California, conducted a clinical study in the early 1990s on people with brain lesions. He discovered that people whose emotions were impaired due to brain damage simply couldn’t make effective decisions. Some of them couldn’t make decisions at all.

So, what does this mean for design?

“95% of purchasing decisions are driven by the subconscious mind and emotion”

Design and Emotion: The Connection

People experience emotional reactions to everything around them, including the products they interact with. In other words, when designing a product, one has to take into account the user’s emotions.

A designer needs to consider a wide range of factors. Not only is it imperative to consider what emotions the product will elicit from the user, but also what other factors in their environment are playing a role in their emotional state at the moment they interact with the product.

For example, an app designed for hospital visitors and/or patients would have to take into account that most people feel anxious and even scared when first arriving. It takes a while for them to calm down. 

A successful app will change and adapt with the user’s emotion journey. So, at first, the app could try to improve confidence and help users relax by providing them with plenty of information. As the user gets more comfortable, the app will become more interactive because the user will require more control.

Another example is a coffeemaker. At first glance, associating an emotional journey with a coffeemaker is a little far-fetched. However, you must dig deeper. 

People drink coffee as a stimulant to help them wake up in the morning but also as part of a social ritual. The design of a coffeemaker needs to take into account who the user is. 

Someone who is a true coffee aficionado will want greater control over the coffeemaking process. When they make coffee, they feel happiness and satisfaction, but also maybe a little impatience. A coffeemaker that takes away all their choices and makes a simple cup of coffee is probably not going to go over well.

On the other hand, someone who only drinks coffee to wake up in the morning and has no further interest in crafting the perfect coffee won’t want a machine that’s too complicated. They’ll be feeling frustration and impatience, so a simple coffeemaker that gets the job done is what they want. 

Of course, in both cases, the machine needs to elicit positive emotions through its design, even while “managing” the emotional journey of the user. 

Consumer Perception

If you give a consumer two products that have identical features, but one is purely functional from a design perspective while the other is far more attractive, people will perceive the prettier one as being more effective. 

This was actually proven by an experiment conducted by two Japanese researchers with a series of ATMs. Some had more attractive interfaces than others. The study found that people thought the ATMs with attractive interfaces worked better. 

Thus, when designing a product, one must take into account the user’s emotional journey. If the product can connect with the user on an emotional level, it will result in far greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.