Let’s talk about feelings

Sara Munday

I’m sure many of the London people have seen me around, wondering what it is that I’m actually doing there. Well, as part of my thesis project I am researching how to incorporate “emotions” into digital service design. This is still a bit fuzzy and doesn’t say much. So let me tell you a bit about it.

I come from an Industrial Design Engineering background and have been focusing on design research for products or services; I don’t have strong “digital design” knowledge, but I have come to discover that beyond designing for product, services or digital services, designers look at three main aspects: Function, Use and Pleasure (based on John Terninko’s product feature’s: basic, performance and excitement features, 1995).

Firstly, Function refers to what is the purpose of the design. Secondly, Use is about the usability of the elements being designed; how a person will utilize a product.  Finally, Pleasure accounts for the extra elements that add value to the user; those elements that differentiate the product or service from any other that fulfills the same needs (purpose) and that people are able to access and operate (use).

It all seems so obvious (or not) but we constantly focus on designing usable products or services and forget about the “feeling” we can elicit on customers. We neglect the bond we can create with them and how powerful it can be to aim for loyalty and appreciation of what’s being offered.

I guess the question lays on how as designers we can actually create that bond. How can we design pleasurable products that go beyond usability? What do we need to take in account? How can we deal with the subjectivity of feelings and introduce them as part of a design business?

This is the aim of my whole project. For now, I can say that pleasurable products or services are those that give us an overall positive experience, which is based on three levels: aesthetic, meaning and emotions. Aesthetic refers to the physical characteristics of the product or situation, which the user grasps through sensorial perception. Meaning refers to the personal or symbolic significance given to those perceptions by means of interpretation, memories or associations. Finally, Emotion is the evaluation of the situation as potentially beneficial or harmful (appraisal theory, see Arnold, 1960), is how we feel about it.

I came across a pharmacy website that can briefly illustrate this. Pharmacy2u is one of the UK’s most accessed pharmacy sites. In terms of visual, the pharmacy uses colours like blue and green (which are often used and associated with healthcare), has a slider with some images and displays the products not just by listing but also with a clear photo of the package.  Now, I’m not sure about how good or bad their whole interface is, but if you look at their menu, they have one section for “embarrassing” shopping, which groups those products for certain conditions that perhaps people are not so comfortable with; in a way they dared to mark those conditions as “unwanted due to social embarrassment”. I don’t know if they were thinking about the emotional response on people, but think about the effect that this may have for someone that actually has a bad case of acne or hair loss. It is no longer about an unwanted condition but one that even your pharmacy labels as embarrassing. Quite something.

It may just be a marketing trick and I have no idea if it works or actually pushes people away, but it makes you wonder about how powerful this little things can be. As designers we actually have the tools to shape things around us, to think beyond a selling strategy and provide people with products or services that meet their needs, not only on a functional, but also on an emotional level. And yes, they are fuzzy and subjective, but the thing is that emotions are indeed a part of our daily experiences, and understanding them can be a great source of inspiration.

Expect to hear more from me over the next few weeks…

Maria Hock, London intern

Sara Munday

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