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Sunday, February 1, 2004

Design and Emotion
Design Seminar this week was about design and emotion: how can designers use emotion in the creation of products? Designers generally lack a shared understanding and language about emotion in the context of design.

Emotions form the "basement of experience," to use Jodi Forlizzi's phrase. It is integral to plans, actions, outcomes, and our interactions with products.

There are two types of emotion: emotional responses and mood. Emotional responses are the brief, sharp waves of feeling that cause measurable activity in the nervous system and are attributable to some direct cause. Mood is longer, and free-floating, with a less intense effect. Designers are more likely to design for mood than for emotional responses.

Emotional responses are less representative of the environment and more representative of the self. The opposite is true of mood.

Emotion supports feelings (seconds and minutes), moods (days and hours), and changes in behavior (weeks, months, years). Emotions shape plans, how our future actions might be. They coordinate planned activities with artifacts in the environment and evaluate the outcomes of activities. For example, if you have a terrible experience with a car and associate it with feelings of anger and disgust, you probably won't plan to purchase that car any time soon. Conversely, as Don Norman points out, we think that attractive things work better.

Products support both our functional and aesthetic needs, yielding different emotions. These emotions can change over time, and because they do, humans tend to develop complex relationships with certain products. Emotions affect more than just aesthetics; they can affect everything about a product.

Implications for Design
It's difficult to apply the theories of emotion towards the creation of products. Two forms of data that are currently useful to designers: self-evaluating ("I'm feeling happy") and physiological (heart rate, etc.).

Products can shape emotional experiences in three ways:

  • Stimuli for new experiences. Interaction and sensory stimulation are catalysts for new emotional experiences.
  • Extenders on ongoing experiences. Style, utility, enjoyment and other sustaining qualities extending ongoing experiences. I call this the "cigarette after sex" effect.
  • Proxies for past experiences. Associations with products can form proxies for previous experiences.

There are a lot of issues around designing for emotion. For one thing, it's fairly untested. For another, there's not much methodology for it. Social relationships are ignored, and there's been no examination of whole systems.

This is an interesting area, but without the methodologies or even solid case studies where designers have set about to create specific moods to draw upon, it's tough to put this stuff into practice, except on the highest of levels, which likely most good designers do anyway. This should be a rich area of study over the next couple of years though.

posted at 11:22 AM in big ideas, design theory | comments (1) | trackback (0)


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