Emotional Design

20 augustus 2018

By Marco Gianotten

Cognition is how we think, learn, understand, reason, and memorize. Deeply ingrained is the idea that cognition is rational and logical process. But everything we do as humans is tinged with emotions; consciously or subconsciously. In today’s technology-shaped world its not uncommon we love or hate the things we interact with. Consider the frustration and rage people feel when computers fail, or the joy of a cool electronic gadget. Anthropomorphism is on the rise: the attribution of human characteristics to technologies that define our life-style. 

Emotion is the elephant in the room in Enterprise IT: we ignore the feel. Designing IT systems and services is still an ‘emotion-free zone’: we address only functional and non-functional requirements. The emotional needs and state of users are barely addressed. Like Maslow’s pyramid of needs, there is a hierarchy in what make us happy and productive. When functional and non-functional requirements are met, users seeks to fulfill the next one: usability (practical and useful) and desirability (attractive and appealing) are the next levels. 

Don Norman’s bestseller Emotional Design defined three level how products influence our feelings: visceral, behavioral and reflective. In Enterprise IT we deliver products and services, of which many are about solving problems and imposed changes, like application releases. Emotional design in Enterprise IT is even more complicated than with consumer products like teapots or cars. Stress plays a key role in how users interact with Enterprise IT. Stress has plenty of negative effects on body and mind; it prevents you from thinking clearly. On those moments of truth, when things go wrong, there are two issues to address solving a problem: the problem itself and the emotional stress-relieve.  

Many new services and changes in IT don’t land well with users. Annoyance, irritation, and anger are not uncommon. To close the gap, emotional requirements have to be the new normal in the design and management of Enterprise IT. How to address emotions? It starts with understanding why users love of hate things by understanding how they express themselves interacting with the IT services you provide. You can map that based on the four elements in the emotional journey for Enterprise IT:  

    • Intuitive: the first impression and the look and feel 
    • Behavior: the way the service itself functions and performs while using 
    • Reflection: the story we tell to others and the image 
    • Expectations: the strong believes we have what will happen next 


With the mapping of words users express along the four elements of a journey or a service, you get a good picture of the current practice. This is input for the emotional requirements aka how you want users to feel. In plain software design you defined the emotional IST and SOLL. Remember the late Maya Angelou famous quote: “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how made them feel”.