Marco van Hout is co-founder and creative director of SusaGroup and a board member of the International Design for Emotion Society; he is a professor in IE’s Master in Visual Media. He has worked in the field, called Emotional Design, more than a decade and has contributed to it to become bigger. Emotional Design is a strategic thinking with a particular focus on emotion as the key tool to create better, and it is one of markets that has been growing rapidly. Emotions and experiences have become the key words in 21st century to provide consumer with better products and services. Nowadays, emotions are considered catalysts to connect consumer with products and services and have a strong influence on consumers to determine the quality of their product/service’s experience. Masaaki Hasegawa, student of IE’s Master in Visual Media has interviewed Marcos van Hout and in the lines bellow the specialist gives us an opportunity to better understand this field.
MH: How can you define design for emotion?
MV: The definition of design for emotion is that you take the emotional impact of a product or service as main focus to design the product or service. Instead of looking at the design characteristics from the beginning, you first look at the emotional impact you want to achieve, then, you create a deep understanding of whom you are designing for, in order to understand the potential impact. From there, you start designing by focusing on the personal context, goals, standards and attitudes of your users. Most emotions with products are evoked by a subconscious evaluation in which we continuously check if something will benefit or harm our personal concerns. This also explains why emotions are personal (I may have a completely different emotion with a product than you, because we can differ in personal concerns). The steps to design for emotion are simple: 1) measure the emotional impact, 2) understand why these emotions are felt by understanding your user’s personal concerns, 3) create an emotional fingerprint for your product (strategy), and 4) make sure your solution will facilitate the user’s personal concerns so that positive emotions will result. It may sound straightforward, and it is, but the core of design for emotion is that you have an emotion as a starting point. For example, in our current assignment at IE University for the screen of the Museo de Prado, we started with investigating people at the Plaza de las Letras where the screen is situated, in order to know how they behave, what concerns they have, and in which context they have their rituals. You have to know who you are dealing with for design for emotion. It is a very human-centered and empathetic way of designing.
MH: How did you get interested in this field?
MV: 11 years ago, I was in Madrid for an internship and they gave me an assignment in a hospital here. In the end, it was cancelled. However, I was already here and arranged everything. Therefore I had to think about another topic, and one of my colleagues told me about ‘Kansei engineering’, a Japanese engineering technique that focuses on linking product characteristics to affective impact. I thought it sounded very interesting and wondered how this would relate to products and especially interactive products. Plus, I was even more interested in researching how designers could benefit from learning more about the emotional impact of their products. So I wrote my Master thesis on the emotional impact of interactive products and how designers could elicit predefined emotions. It was about whether designers could design different products if they look into emotions at the start point. When I started getting involved in this field, design for emotion was not very wellknown. The Design & Emotion Society was founded as a first initiative and step in this field, which was in 1999. Since then, a lot has changed and emotion and experience are household concepts now in design programs at universities, but also more and more in industry.
MH: Who and what kind of companies can apply design for emotion to their business usage?
MV: Basically every company that would like to have an impact on their user from an empathic point of view. If you want to design something that is meaningful, or to have products that people value, you should focus on emotional design, because emotion driven design focuses on the appropriateness of a product. Emotion drives our behavior, helps us perceive the world, as we know it, steers our memory and helps us engage. Emotion is a key element of experience in the world we are living in. It can give companies a competitive advantage, as emotional impact is about influencing (purchase) behavior, satisfaction, engagement, attachment and especially the experience of meaning. Name one company that doesn’t want to be considered as meaningful by their clients.
MH: When you started business in this field, what was the difficulty? Even if the economy situation was better than now, did people pay attention to invest in this field?
MV: In that period, Joseph Pine wrote his book, “The Experience Economy”, which is about the paradigm shift from a commodity driven economy to an experience driven economy, and companies started to differentiate themselves from others with unique experience they would provide. So in that context, emotions became more valuable. However, at the time, emotional design was seen as something extra that companies didn’t want to invest their core budget in, so sometimes we were part of the design process instead of what would be the best actually: the complete process from the earliest stage on.Thus, it is harder to convince companies with the current economic situation for the reasons I mentioned.
MH: Do you think companies think it is too obvious to invest their money?
MV: That is a good point. Emotion and Experience are something that we all have. Thus, clients and companies tend to think they know what they are doing with their products and services, and say, ” I know exactly what the experience is”, relating it to their own experience with it. Take for example a Roller Coaster experience. It is easy to undergo it by sitting down in your seat, put on the seatbelt and there you go. However, when you design the experience of it, you need to look into a lot of different aspects like how the seating is designed, how people touch it, how fast it goes, how the weather is, how much gravity people would experience, and so on. Roller coaster designer know that they need to look into these factors to understand what the experience is. People tend to think that they know the experience of roller coaster because they have experienced it, but just describing the experience when you are in the roller caster is not enough.
MH: So, a small difference could make the whole experience different.
MV: Yes, and emotional design points out the difference brought about by a small difference. Every design decision has a straight impact on emotion. Positively, you can influence it and negatively you are actually influencing it.
MH: Can we apply this to services and retail stores too?
MV: Most definitely! Actually, your experience starts before you go out to make your purchase. You think about the store you would go to and you think about I want to buy a pair of pants, for example. So you have a lot of expectations that would influence on your experience in a store from the beginning. Obviously, when you get inside the store, all visual stimuli, scent and sound that the store has have an overall direct influence on your experience, and so your (emotional) evaluation of the store immediately begins. People start to evaluate whether they like the smell inside, the music the store plays and the color valuation inside the store that come from personal background. That is why retailers need to understand whom they are dealing with. Emotion driven design takes on a holistic approach through all of the fields of design.
MH: What kind of trend we should follow
MV: The big trend that we are seeing in parallel with the trend of emotion driven design is the focus on a more human centered development. Within emotional design, this is about designing for well being, positive design, and design for happiness. Spaces are for example being designed with emotion-driven design techniques in order to influence mood, perception of safety and to alter behavior.
You can think of simple design interventions, such as changing the color of a hospital room wall to green, that proved to have a major effect on the time people had to spend in a hospital to recover. Another example are mobile apps that have been designed to stimulate positive behavior in people’s daily lives, for example by showing them how much energy they have used in their home, or how much they moved in a day.
Another trend is the increase in screens and interfaces that we are seeing in daily life. Not only are we confronted with them in our homes, but also in the street, in buildings, public transport, etc. Screens and interfaces are everywhere. Currently we are doing research on the impact of those interfaces and screens and to see when they are supporting people’s rituals/ needs and when they are harming them. It is all about appropriateness. We are looking at when do screens have a certain impact on people and when do they add value to people’s activities and needs: it is all about appropriateness. I see a trend towards designing screens around us from a more holistic perspective: it is not about what interface you design for specific screen (devices), but more about how do you connect all of those together so that they are, again, appropriate and valuable. In such a holistic approach, emotion is a binding factor which can guide you in designing a consistent user experience throughout all screen-experiences.
MH: Would you give some message to people who would like to get into this field? What they need to learn, what do you expect them to learn before getting stared working in this field.
MV: There is no specific master or school in this field, and I think this is not a bad thing because emotion is a part of a bigger whole. Emotion is a red line that goes through all layers of the experience. I think it is interesting to start reading related work in psychology, and you could read a lot of papers from past Design & Emotion conferences (since 1999). And then a plan could be to do an internship or start to experiment yourself. You need to go out to see how people feel, behave and interact with each other with your own eyes. So it is a lot about just an open vision. Once you have a vision, a clear empathy for the user and people in general, you can apply it to your own field. You can just dictate a designer or someone who creates things but you should be empathic. Just dictating does not work. Emotion driven design is perhaps the ultimate democracy between designers and users.