Emotional design is dangerous
Before we start, let's repeat: emotional design is dangerous. Do not use it.
This post contains two distinct texts. You can read only English, if you are interested in the topic. You can read Russian, if you hade read previous posts in my blog. You can read both, if you can. The texts are independent. I'm too lazy to write them separate using the same set of images. There are also some things I won't see to be found by a search engine together with my name.
Please note that my article is a short introduction. Compactness is preferred to correctness. My text does not contain explanations, proofs or recommendations. I would be forced to write a thick book to make this correctly.
I use screenshots from the first episode of anime Nisekoi for illustration. A bit later I explain why this is the best choice.
The definition of the term
Emotional Designin this text is simple: this is a design that generates emotional response. This term was introduced by Donald Norman in his book "Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things". The idea was widely recognized however it did not create a wide flow of everyday things and software with emotional impact. Let's call the attempt to place emotions in physical objects, software interfaces and web site layouts "Emotional Design 1.0". It seems it has failed.
Next attempt was connected with Web 2.0, social networking, responsive design and gamification. It is early to speak about results. However it seems that something is wrong. All speak only about fun and joy as if they describe drugs. The spectrum of human emotions is much broader. It is not wise to forget about most of them. Of course social web enables user conversations nearly equal to real life however I do not know successful attempts to control or manage the emotional aspect of their interactions.
This article describes Emotional Design 3.0 as the idea to create software and web portals with full emotional impact. It is referred further as "emotional design" without number. This is a revisited idea of the first version and some facts are applicable for all kinds and versions of emotional design. It is also not convenient to write "3.0" each time. Lastly, it would be better to use a specific term but all good derivatives of "emotional" are already taken for various other concepts. Maybe I change the term to some new funny name.
Emotional design is dangerous. This is not a set of patented tricks to make your audience happy. If your hope that your customers will smile permanently when clicking on buttons and links, your goal audience are people with mental disability.
Emotions are not about happiness. This is a basic communication mechanism, an barbaric communication mechanism, a language that people use unconsciously. This means, emotions are more basic than speech. They are used for something that a human or a more primitive animal cannot communicate with words or do not have time for this.
And most emotions are about defense.
Emotional design is dangerous. It is tricky to master this language but it is more powerful than words. For good and for bad. Playing with emotions is like playing with fire.
It is not about "like" (especially not about Facebook-style "like"). It is about love and hate.
Emotional design is selective. You will inspire someone, you will anger someone other and many people will filter out your attempts. Emotions consume energy. A lot of people are afraid of it.
Kids of previous epochs were surrounded by living subjects. They learned from adults and other kids, they played with animals. Old toys were simple and honest. Anyone could recognize them from living things, even if they were moving and speaking. A curious kid could break and disassemble them to understand and possibly to repair later.
Modern kids communicate through social networks, they delegate their conflicts to specific adults, they have the whole day loaded with dumb animation and flashy computer games, they learn from television, communicate with avatars. If they attempt to understand the construction of their toys and electronic devices and try to disassemble them, these things simply die.
Modern people live in the world of magic. They do not understand internal mechanisms, they cannot distinguish live and mechanic objects, they cannot read emotions and they cannot produce them. At least in the right way.
Maybe this is not the situation today. But this is definitely the near future.
It is possible to change the world with emotional design? It is possible to make a software program, a web portal or a mobile application fully alive? Not probably. But it is worth to try.
This is a bad English but a good term.
You can switch on emotions with colors, graphic compositions and images of nature.
Theoretically this is possible but in most cases you will fail. Viewer response would be too generic, too imprecise and too weak.
To produce emotions you need living objects. For computer systems you need humans and semi-humans. Cats are nice and amusing but they do not claim to be intellectual.
It is possible to simulate intellect in a software or in an electronic device but this is extremely difficult. Let us consider not a "living soul" of a software but a persona behind it. Note, I use here the term "persona" (lat. mask) from usability.
Like the persons behind avatars in social networks these are real people or artificial characters communicating with our audience.
For instance, if you blame MS Word you address your complaints to Bill Gates. If you adore iPhone, you pray to Stive Jobs. (OK! New Apple products do not have Stive behind them. And you can see the signs of degradation.)
Most companies especially in the "old economy" fail to create "a face" of their products and their services. But most customers do this humanisation. They may connect a company or a product to a real person or imagine someone very vaguely. They connect emotionally not with a web page, not with a flashy smartphone design, not with a set of menus and dialog windows but with people.
Most companies feel this demand and place faces on their web pages. Unfortunately these are generic stock images. Simply speaking, they are wrong characters.
All kinds of information transmission cut off major part of communication channels.
Letters reduce a message to naked information. Phone transmits voice but in most cases fails to reproduce tone and speech nuances correctly. Even video conferences fail to show quick focal expressions, cut from view most part of the body and hide small details.
In the face to face communication this channels are very important and in some cases may change the meaning of spoken words to the complete opposite.
You can transmit emotions using only texts. However you must be an experienced fiction writer to master this technique.
I do not describe word painting, emotional storytelling and creation of believable characters. I give some references at the end of this article. You can read them and try to apply the techniques to your software projects.
I do not describe how to apply voice and music for emotional impact because I'm not competent in this area. Additionally this is not a suitable theme for the blog format.
My article is about visual storytelling. You need a communication history to make your user familiar with the persona that represents your technical (or better saying "intellectual") services. You must guide your users, create empathy channels, fill them with energy and transmit emotions. Modern IT offers here a great possibility: you can use graphical displays and in some cases color printed materials.
Visual components were important long before computer age. People add images of hearts and flowers to love letters. Newspapers are not dry text pages but try to shock or to amuse readers with photos, drawings and caricatures. Most advanced show faces of article authors to make information more personal.
Early technologies for digital message exchange used only text, but people created a broad variety of smiles from semicolons, brackets and other characters. They tried to transfer or to simulate emotions. Digital communication was less formal than paper letters and people were free to improvise to fulfill their demands.
Modern forums and blogs offer possibilities to use different avatars for postings and comments. Some people have hundreds of faces for different emotions and emotional reactions.
By the start of XXI century computers and communication channels were powerful enough to create, transfer and show moving faces. Many companies tried to create virtual creatures to humanize their web pages.
They have failed. The idea was not wrong but their virtual characters were bland primitive undernatures.
Next Part: Visual storytelling