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Designing for Emotion

March 18, 2013

Meeting new people is fun, and in the design and development start-up scene here in San Francisco, one of the most fun ways to meet new folks is by going to meet-ups. My favorite question that I inevitably have to answer when telling a new face about myself is why I studied sociology and how it applies to design. Many people don't realize that in order to create something that users truly enjoy, the design needs to successfully appeal to their emotions and create a positive memory that stands out.

The most interesting liberal arts tie-in with design I have found is how "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs" can be reformatted into a hierarchy of design. For those that don't remember or were never taught, Maslow's Hierarchy is a framework that states no matter who you are, every human has a basic pyramid of needs and can't ascend to the next step unless the previous has been fulfilled. From the bottom to the top they are: Physiological (the need to breathe, eat, sleep), Safety (safety from bodily harm, loss of family, property of job), Love/Belonging (intimate connection to other humans), Esteem (sense of self, respect and confidence to excel in life) and Self-Actualization (fulfillment in being creative, solving problems and following a moral code to serve other earthlings).

Maslow's approach to identifying human needs can help us understand our goals when designing interfaces as well. We could certainly live content lives existing on the bottom three levels of the hierarchy but as top tier San Franciscan designers we strive to live in that top layer. If we apply Maslow's hierarchy to interface design it would look something like this:

  • Functional: An interface must be functional. If the user can't complete a task, they certainly won't spend much time with an application.
  • Reliable: If the server, for example, drops out intermittently, or the service is otherwise unreliable, a user will leave.
  • Usable:  If the service or interface is not usable the users will not return.
  • Pleasurable: like Maslow's self actualization tier, we strive to place our products at the apex of this pyramid. This can only be accomplished once each previous step is fulfilled. Joy, fun, and delight is what the user experiences here. It creates an experience worth recommending to a friend; an idea worth spreading.

In the past and even today the usability tier is the pinnacle for many designs and applications. In order to create a design that users will love and come back to it is important to create a strong positive emotional impact with users by creating something that inspires joy and pleasure.

is a Yeti Alum.

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Designing for Emotion
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