The nature of emotions and their meaning for design

Maria Hock

As I’m talking about “the nature of…” it is just obvious that I first refer to Darwin and his perspective on human emotions. According to him, emotions are a tool for survival; they are a mean to express our perception of an event. In the 60’s M.B. Arnold stated the Appraisal Theory, which describes that emotions are the result of an unconscious evaluation of a situation as potentially beneficial or harmful for one’s concerns. Although emotions are subjective, it also implies that people with a similar appraisal of an event (shared concerns) will have a similar emotional response.

The question is, what does this mean for design?

Well, it means that if we understand people’s emotional responses to certain stimuli and uncover their concerns, we can aim for products or services that directly (or indirectly) imp­ulse or relieve those concerns; as designers we have the tools to shape product and service elements and design research is a great source of inspiration for it.

Concerns are present in our daily lives; they vary from small, short-term purposes like enjoying a birthday celebration, to life directing, long-term purposes such as being healthy, and they often conflict with each other; think about a person that feels pleasure from eating a delicious chocolate birthday cake but at the same time feels guilty because is not getting proper nutrition. As designers we can aim for products or services that help users solve those conflicts, like a digital service that not only tells you how many calories you have eaten (and how fat you will get), but aligns data from other sources, like the body energy you spend during your work day or the exercise you make, allowing you to track your overall intake and make decisions on different levels, which support better nutrition for your own habits.

This is all emotional design…

What I have talked about is nothing more than understanding users from an emotional perspective; is one of the emotional design approaches: the appraisal approach, on which designers concentrate on capturing user’s emotions (regarding a certain situation) and translate those into concerns and, furthermore, into opportunities.

The outcome will be a purposeful design (with a function based on a need) that consumers can utilize but they also want to get involved with (engage), create a bond (attach) and eventually will keep using/accessing (retain) in order to influence or address a particular concern.

For more on this topic:

  • Arnold, M. (1960). Emotion and personality. Columbia University Press.
  • Desmet, P., & Hekkert, P. (2007). Framework of Product Experience. International Journal of Design , 1 (1), 57-66.
  • Desmet, P. M., Porcelijn, R., & van Dijk, M. (2007). Emotional Design; Application of a Research-Based Design Approach. Knowledge, Technology & Policy , 20 (3), 141-155.
  • Ramos, J., Assis, M. V., Prujá, D., Saldanha, L., Campelo, F., Da Costa, X., et al. (2012). Pleasures through mobile applications: Investigating the user-system Interaction. 8th International Design and Emotion Conference. London.
  • Walter, A. (2011). Designing for Emotion. New Yourk, United States: A book appart.



Maria Hock

More Stories from Fjord