How to Design for more Engaging Experiences

It’s no news that emotions play a crucial role in how humans perceive the world and behave. Until today, companies have been focusing more and more on customers’ behaviors, understanding what they do, and trying to change these behaviors with different strategies. This is great. However, what is often overlooked is what customers are feeling when they interact with a product or service. Here companies should pay more attention because; customers' emotional and visceral states will affect how they behave.

According to the design approach Emotional Design, emotions such as joy and excitement are more likely to increase a person’s motivation to repeat a behavior while frustration and other negative emotions impede it. Positive experiences arouse curiosity and liking, whereas negative experiences will motivate us to run away from that experience and not repeat it. 

Let’s take iPhone as an example. From the get-go Apple's design philosophy has been to create products that not only function well but also evoke strong emotional responses from users. From the sound of clicking a button, the smoothness of animations, the tactile feel of the device to the packaging that the iPhone comes in – all design features contribute to a multi-sensory experience that engages users on several dimensions.

In the car industry, sound has been an integral part for a long time as a way to increase feelings of exclusivity, comfort, and satisfaction. Have you ever opened and closed a car door and thought that it sounded very satisfying? This soft but distinct sound of the door doesn’t just happen by chance, it’s carefully engineered to create clear feedback on the behavior (closing the door), as well as adding a feeling of quality to the car experience. This is Emotional Design at its core.

Context matters

However, context always matters. When it comes to fighting climate change it’s, according to a newly published study, not a positive feeling of hope that will spur action but rather feelings of anger. In the study, the link to activism was seven times stronger for feelings of anger than it was for hope. Two steps a person took along the anger scale, they moved one step along the activism scale. Actions in this case were an effect of feeling anger. Yet, when it comes to paying bills in our banking app, booking a hotel on a website, or logging our food in a health app, feelings of frustration or insecurity will surely not make us return to that service, but rather feelings of convenience, satisfaction, and security.

Understanding the emotional context, i.e. what emotions are elicited when customers interact with your brand, communication, product, or service, is important to both create a user experience that people want to come back to and also to ultimately increase people’s well-being. The objective of an Emotional design approach should be to increase the repetition of desired behaviors, i.e. behaviors that in the long term increase people’s quality of life to some extent. Hence, understanding and impacting emotions as a tool for positive behavior change is something you as a company, and your customers, can make big wins from.