Chapter 1 Excerpts

2. All Design is Emotional Design

Simple decisions rely on the emotional feedback provided by our feelings.

If your business involves competing in a market in which your customers have to choose between your product and similar products made by your competitors, consider this: individuals without the capacity for emotional response are unable to make even simple cognitive decisions such as what clothes to wear in the morning (Damasio, 1994). You’re required to make hundreds of seemingly inconsequential decisions each day, and simple emotional responses are likely the deciding factor in those decisions.

Emotional design is not some rare or sacred thing—it’s all around us.

Professionals in a large number of industries are now realizing the importance of considering their customers’ emotional responses. Security professionals have now realized that they are providing not only actual security but also the feeling or perception of security (Schneier, 2008).

Video games are designed with your emotions in mind.

Kinect Star Wars

Companies that make the latest video games have recognized that emotional engagement is the real reason that games become hits (Kohler, 2008). One of the results of this is that games have become more cinematic, with multiple characters, frequent scene changes, and epic story lines.

Other gaming companies are focusing on incorporating players’ emotional states into gameplay by monitoring their physiology. Journey to the Wild Divine: The Passage is a video game that uses biofeedback to monitor emotional arousal by measuring heart rate and skin conductance (, 2011). Movement through the game is dependent on the player’s ability to regulate his or her arousal levels. Some levels require players to relax themselves and others require the players to increase their energy.

All design is emotional design.

With continuing advances in technology and increasing understanding of the psychology and physiology of affective states, interest in emotion is growing because it makes for good business. Emotional design is not some rare or sacred thing — it’s all around us.

 “3. Emotion Dominates Decision-Making” >


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Chapter 1 Excerpts

1. Emotion is Experience

We receive information about the world from our senses.

Because we don’t have the attention required to process and interpret all the information we receive each day, a lot of the information we encounter is simply screened out (Davenport & Beck, 2001). Our brains then process and interpret the information that has actually made it into our heads. This information is represented and compared to the information we already know.

The information you take in informs your mental model or “map” of the world and reality.

Social Gamer Mental Map

Because no one can be exposed to everything, everyone’s map is incomplete. No single person’s map can possibly encompass “all” of reality. This inherent limitation naturally leads to some heated debates between people with different “maps” about the nature of existence, god and a number of other interesting questions that we won’t attempt to address here.

But let’s back up for a minute. What is it that keeps information from being ignored or screened out in the first place? What is it that selects the information that actually gets into our brains and becomes part of our mental models of reality? Attention selects relevant information by focusing on it and deletes information that’s considered irrelevant by simply ignoring it.

Emotion is the energy that drives and directs attention.

Emotions and other affective states like moods, sentiments and personality traits influence every aspect of our interactions with brands, products, and websites (Forlizzi & Battarbee, 2004). This includes our intentions, our plans, and any feedback on whether we achieve success. Our plans are our internal representations of sequences of events, actions, and consequences. Plans provide a link between the goals we envision in our minds and the actual realization of those goals in the physical world.

Affective states run the range from short-term emotions to long-term personality traits.

In this way, affective states act as continuously shifting influences that are always altering perception and triggering the mental processes that lead to behavior. In emotion research circles, this influence is called “emotional affect” (Russell, 1980).

Emotional affect can be envisioned as a lens that constantly colors our realities.

This lens is so pervasive and ubiquitous that it’s easy to forget that it’s there, unless our emotions become intense enough to demand and divert our attention. The color and focus of the lens may change depending on the quality of the emotions we’re experiencing, but the lens is always there, subtly influencing how we see the world. We explore the effects of emotional affect in more detail in Chapter 2 of the book.

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Chapter 1 Excerpts

Five Reasons to Design for Emotion

Why should you design for emotion?

The short answer is that emotion is an overriding influence in our daily lives (Damasio, 1994). It constitutes our experiences and colors our realities. Emotion dominates decision making, commands attention and enhances some memories, while minimizing others (Reeves & Nass, 1998).

Emotions and Meaning

The emotions we feel allow us to assign meanings to the people and things that we experience in life.

Five Reasons to Design for EmotionMost of the time, pleasure means “good” and pain means “bad.” When we use products, websites and software applications, we experience complex social and emotional responses that are no different from the responses we experience when we interact with real people (Desmet, 2002).

Emotion and Personality

Over time, the emotional expressions that we perceive in both people and things can come to be seen as “personality traits” (van Gorp, 2006).

We perceive personality in the things in our environment and then form relationships with those things based on the personalities we’ve given them (Reeves & Nass, 1998). As Donald Norman put it: “everything has a personality, everything sends an emotional signal. Even when this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view … infer personalities and experience emotions. … Horrible personalities instill horrid emotional states in their users, usually unwittingly” (van Geel, 2011).

Our tendency to perceive emotion and personality in things is utilized by marketers and advertisers, who target advertisements for particular brands to the audiences of specific shows. The “personality” of each show—represented by its look, feel, and emotional tone—is known to attract an audience that fits certain demographics and has certain tastes. “Modest people are more likely to watch the blue-collar hero show Deadliest Catch, while altruistic people tend to prefer cooking shows like Rachael Ray and reality shows with happy endings like The Bachelor” (Bulik, 2010).

We perceive personality in things and then form relationships with those things based on the personalities we’ve perceived in them.

PleasantBecause of people’s natural tendency to perceive personality in things, they form relationships with those things based in part on the personalities they perceive. Personality traits contribute to our choices in terms of the media (e.g., TV shows, music) we choose, the products we purchase and the story of the brands we embrace or ignore (Govers & Schoormans, 2005).

Five Reasons to Practice Emotional Design

To create better value for both your clients and their customers, begin considering your users’ emotional responses as part of your design process.

Emotions affect key cognitive functions on both the conscious and unconscious levels. Let’s take a more detailed look at the reasons that emotion has such a profound influence on the success of a design:

In upcoming posts, we’ll be covering these five reasons to design for emotion, adding news and updates, and posting excerpts from the book, so stay tuned.

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