Why you should design to control emotions

A truly engaging user experience should evoke an emotional response, says Tim Rodgers.

At the centre of any great creative work is emotion. The film that makes you cry, the book that makes you laugh, the song that makes you leap onto the dancefloor. Emotional memories make up the core of our personal history. And in our cluttered, noisy world, recall is one of the most important things to a brand.

How to create positive emotion using colour and light

In the old days, creative people fabricated an emotional journey in a linear way, often by themselves. That lone auteur or novelist designed each scene of the film or the plot points of the book in order to evoke the viewer or reader's emotional responses on their way along a rich, but straightforward, emotional journey.

Today, digital creatives have to take people on interactive journeys, plotting dozens of different points of emotional response through complex systems design. It has to be technically perfect to work, but it also needs to have an astute sense of the emotional travel between each interaction.

Modern design skills

'Click 1 then Click 2' equals one reaction, but 'Click 1 then Click 3' equals another, and plotting that difference to tell a great, cohesive story is an entirely modern skill.

Add to that the complexity of dozens of stakeholders – clients, partners, not to mention your audiences – and emotional integrity becomes difficult to maintain.

Thankfully, we now have a tool that can guide our creative process – user testing. You can create fast and cheap prototype experiences so you can tell first-hand whether the drama is being built in the way that you expected.

Each of our creative decisions is informed by real-life information of how people respond to the story. We're not expecting to get it right the first or even the tenth time.

Suceeding in failure

It means being precious about ideas is really old school – failure is an integral part of the process of getting your story's emotional angle perfect. At rehabstudio we call this Triage, which is our creative process to constantly make and break stuff until it works.

I'd argue that the search for those emotional sweet spots has spawned a new breed of creative person with new skills required to do it. UX creatives take the technical knowledge of UX design, and interweave the passion vital for great storytelling. This enables them to create an evolved experience that takes advantage of each of the user's choices to inform the response they want them to have.

Like a great movie editor, a UX creative can add drama and relevance to a story by adding a button to bring one scene to close, or encourage reflection by designing in pauses or excitement by speeding things up. The possibilities are endless.

To extend my film analogy, the visceral is a great example that hacks moving image and interaction together, but the real advance will come in the subtle integrations we have yet to imagine. So get hacking, and get emotional.

Words: Tim Rodger
Illustration: Żaneta Antosik

Tim Rodger is the creative partner at rehabstudio, a creative technology company that develops digital brand experiences for clients such as Disney, Google, Red Bull, Starbucks and YouTube. This feature first appeared inside Computer Arts 237: Pick the Perfect Typeface.

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