Emotional Design

Hi there

I’m writing my masters dissertation on Why does design need to have an emotional aspect to it?. What I’m interested in finding out are other designers opinion on emotional design, so i have a few questions if people don’t mind answering?

Firstly, why has emotional design become an important part of design recently? Why do we need to have an emotional response to everyday objects?

Secondly, where do you think emotions come into the design process? For example is it something that is initially designed into the object or part of it’s marketing or something that the user reflects on themselves?

Due to mass customization, how do peoples relationships with these objects change compared to objects that have been mass produced?

And lastly, how much do people have an emotional attachment (if any) with digital media?



Sorry for the short response, but when I read this I thought of these videos. Peoples reaction to there World of Warcraft accounts being deleted.

So the obvious first, as a profession we are interested in creating strong positive emotional responses to encourage: purchase/recommendations/loyalty - profits. I think this has only recently been proven by marketing science.

People have a continuum of emotional responses in varying degree of intensity - a matrix. We own products we hate or love or are indifferent to for a wide variety of reasons (like a hammer for example, it could represent your grandfather or just an innanimate object that hits your thumb).
This example shows the nature of the emotional connection however, objects bought on vacation may be more valuable than they would have if bought at home because of the connection to other memories. This we can’t design.

The idea that if everything we lived with was a unique object in the world, our lives would somehow be better for it…I’d say some would agree and others not. I have artist freinds who live this way but that’s not for everybody - there are a lot of people (I think the majority) who’s self image is based on belonging to a larger group.

you ask where emotions come into the design process as if it’s something seperate - I don’t understand this question. Design process puts all the needs of the consumer first, the relationship of the user to the product is intrinsically emotional (to varying degrees). I don’t see how being digital alters any of this.

I think what i mean by this is that where some products and objects provoke an emotional response is this something that has been put in as a specification to the product or something that has come about afterwards?

Sometimes there is no way of knowing what the emotional connection to a product will be. For instance, My girlfriend is very emotionally attached to some of the products (iron, toaster, mixing bowls) that she was given by her brother as gifts. Even though the product might not be of great quality it is the best thing in her mind.

Scott - perhaps some of your background and thesis topic might help.

In an oversimplification, the “rock stars” of design work to thier own taste and people buy into their “signature”.
The majority of design professionals are trained to put themselves in the shoes of the target market, to feel thier needs from the outset (the most difficult part of the education process is to accept criticism of how you interposed yourself over top of the consumer)
It’s not some formula or specification, it’s how we work.

I’m a postgrad research student studying interaction design. My masters dissertation is challenging why design needs an emotional aspect to it. is it something we really need?

your human factors research should tell you that performance improves when consumers find an interface beutiful.

what would be gained from the elimination of emotion from the design process or interactions themselves?

I’m sure you know of this book already:


good questions, here is my quick take:

Firstly, why has emotional design become an important part of design recently? Why do we need to have an emotional response to everyday objects?

emotion has always been a part of design, even when designers try to strip it away. I went to the Philip Johnson Glass House a few weeks ago, essentially a glass box, one room, with a bed, mini kitchen island, and a fireplace… you can’t strip away anymore than that and still have it be a house. The other people there on the tour were from all over the world and everyone had an emotional response. A good designer understands this, and plays with it. It is another set of ingredients in the kitchen. Why do we have emotional responses to food? To our mothers? Because we are humans. And since as designers we design for humans, we play with the idea of motion. This is not the science part of what we do, this is the art part. We do our best to design products people will love, and cherish, but in the end, people put their own emotional imprint overtop. They decide… and you can’t find these things out in a focus group, or a user test. This happens at home, or over time, or immediately but in the unconscious.

I feel it is important to at least do our best to design objects people love because I feel it encourages them to take care of them better and keep them longer… and life is to short to not be surrounded by what you love.

Secondly, where do you think emotions come into the design process? For example is it something that is initially designed into the object or part of it’s marketing or something that the user reflects on themselves?

I think it comes in at all stages. Initially, it has to be there at that original spark, then it has to be tended to and built on so it has the best chance of transferring all the way to the consumer. Look at Audi in the early 2000’s or Apple now. Two cliche examples, and for a reason! They carried it through from Freeman Thomas doodling the TT and building the clay model in his kitchen, to the concept cars, to the marketing adverts. That brand went from nothing, to being on par with MB and BMW in the US in under 10 years.

Due to mass customization, how do peoples relationships with these objects change compared to objects that have been mass produced?

Mass customization has not hit critical mass. By far, the vast majority of products are not customized. We like to talk about it, but I’d put it at less than .001% of all consumer products sold, and even at that most of this customization is in color selection from a presorted designer approved color palette.

And lastly, how much do people have an emotional attachment (if any) with digital media?

This is hard for me to say, but I have definitely had some older OS’s that I really loved, and even the old photoshop/illustrator icons were hard for me to give up…

Hi Yo

Thanks for the response.

I understand what you mean about designing objects that people love as they will take care of them better. I wonder how much this could, perhaps, be used as a method for designers to design more sustainable objects? As in be designing pleasurable objects with the aim to reduce the amount of products that end up in land-fills?

I understand as well what you say regarding customization but what about companies such as http://www.ponoko.com and http://www.shapeways.com where people can design and make their own objects. With people designing and producing their own objects, does this give them more of an emotional attachment? I agree that it’s not hit critical mass, but a lot of research suggests that it’s a an opportunity for people to associate objects with their own self-image. How much do you see designed objects heading down this route of customization?

A lot of the books and journals i’ve read concentrate on the happy and pleasurable side of emotions. Yeah, good design works better than bad design but what about other emotions such as envy, surprise etc. What are other designers opinion on this?

To No_Spec

I don’t think design has anything to lose or gain by eliminating emotions from design. I’m interested in designers opinion on the subject. Yes human factors suggests beautiful interfaces increase productivity and beautiful objects perhaps convince people that they work better than other objects but with my earlier comment i believe emotional design is concentrating on the pleasurable (and its polar opposite emotions - poor, bad etc). I think design needs to explore other emotions as well as the pleasurable side of emotions.

I think emotional connectivity is definitely something to looked at in designing sustainable, long lifecycle products, that is what I was hinting it. It is the pocket watch example.

ponoko and shapeways are great places for creative consumers to get something custom… I bet you most of the users of those services are designers, or creatives in some form.

Most of the talk is around the satisfaction types of emotions (happiness, pleasure, serenity, comfort) but envy for sure is present in most status symbols.

The only emotion that I can personally extract from all of the products that surround me is pride. Hand in hand on the emotion scale with envy on the deadly side. I feel good, proud of the stuff I choose and typically choose it because of its design.

The only other emotion that gets attached is nostalgia of various sorts to objects that came into my life at given times. That is very after the fact and has nothing to do with the design itself.

Maybe it is because of a personal coolness, or simply my inherent structural reaction to the design in everything, that it is almost impossible to imagine an emotional content in a design other than in children’s toys.

Edit: I realized that well designed medical equipment can have an impact on lessening anxiety, but that is not really consumption of choice.

what objects do you associate with pride and which ones with envy? Do you think you may objects you associate other emotions with?

Medical equipment is pretty interesting as well. How does design lessen anxiety through aesthetics?

Woohoow interessting discussion going on :wink:

I agree with what Yo said about emotions not being measurable. Why people love certain objects and other’s don’t is a mystery -apart from nostalgia as said before- Apart from who likes what and who not. An object must always have a ‘soul’ to succeed it’s first goal: A user-relationship. When people love their objects they won’t throw them away -as Yo said before-. There’s lots of ways of doing this and one of them is making them beautiful, Expensive, Or just plain simple and uber-functional…others even propose handicapping our products so we would care for them. And this is not a bad idea…if you think about it. Anyway. Emotion in a design is vital. It is the X-factor. It is why people fall in love with products…And other people. You don’t know why. But it is there. And you know if it’s not there either :wink:



thanks for the response. That’s interesting handicapping products so we have to take care of them. Are you aware of Dunne & Raby’s robot series? One of their robots contains a similar idea of handicapping technology so it needs that human relationship. Dunne & Raby

do you have any examples of handicapped products?

I’ve just finished reading “The Uncommon Life of Common Objects” by Akiko Busch.

Last paragraph of the book (page 155):

“People often think of design as having to do with style. But I think it has more to do with the mysterious compulsion we
have to turn to things when we find it impossible, for one reason or another, to turn to people. What is it about objects that induces us to include them in our emotional life? I wonder too, about the great comfort we seem to derive from the possession of certain objects. Most of all, I am astonished by the power we so often draw from frivolous accessories when we confront our fiercest battles.”

Most Audis :wink:

It’s funny, if you ask many die hard Audi fans about the reliability of their cars, they will say something like “well, it has some eccentricities…” in that trailing vague way. In mine the gas and temperature gauges are always off and sometimes the windows decide not to go up the last 5mm… do I love it in spite of or because of it’s kinks? I din’t know, I’m a designer not a therapist, but it does seem that most objects that people form attachment to have flaws. Maybe they are more human that way. Perfection can be boring.

Objects that I feel design and obscurity pride: MOVISCOP Zeiss Icon film editor, Kona Hot Custom bike, IDA71 russian rebreather, SABA Starck “Jim Nature” television, collection of watches, Rolls Rolls Woody97 longboard, Lian Li x2000, Japan ACG shoes that I don’t know the name of… (anyone know?)

Other than pride, I cannot really ascribe any other emotion to the objects that I like.
Envy, lust, desire for: Biomega MN-01, Biomega Bamboo, Rolex DSSD, Mercedes SLR 722 (Luxury unaffordable objects like the SLR are easy to be envious of!)

I think of the rounded shapes and soft colors of MRI machines or dental equipment. Design of open MRI machines to prevent claustrophobia.