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Design for Emotion

Design for Emotion

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by Trevor van Gorp

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Design for Emotion introduces you to the why, what, when, where and how of designing for emotion. Improve user connection, satisfaction and loyalty by incorporating emotion and personality into your design process. The conscious and unconscious origins of emotions are explained, while real-world examples show how the design you create affects the emotions of


Design for Emotion introduces you to the why, what, when, where and how of designing for emotion. Improve user connection, satisfaction and loyalty by incorporating emotion and personality into your design process. The conscious and unconscious origins of emotions are explained, while real-world examples show how the design you create affects the emotions of your users.

This isn’t just another design theory book – it’s imminently practical. Design for Emotion introduces the A.C.T. Model (Attract/Converse/Transact) a tool for helping designers create designs that intentionally trigger emotional responses. This book offers a way to harness emotions for improving the design of products, interfaces and applications while also enhancing learning and information processing. Design for Emotion will help your designs grab attention and communicate your message more powerfully, to more people.

  • Explains the relationship between emotions and product personalities
  • Details the most important dimensions of a product's personality
  • Examines models for understanding users' relationships with products
  • Explores how to intentionally design product personalities 
  • Provides extensive examples from the worlds of product, web and application design
  • Includes a simple and effective model for creating more emotional designs

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"I would recommend Design for Emotion to technical communicators who have an active role in product design and want to learn more about the emotional psychology of consumers. The authors’ A.C.T. model could prove useful to anyone who shares responsibility for the information architecture and visual design of a Web site, software, or promotional materials." —Technical Communication, February 2014

"Like good journalists, the authors produce chapters that seek to answer why, what, when, where, and how one designs for emotion…This results in a nicely produced package of theory and practice… Both novices and experts need to read this book. I highly recommend it…" —ComputingReviews.com, April 2013

"Intended for creative professionals, Van Gorp and Adams have teamed up to present a practical guide for creating effective designs that succeed in emotion and personality to appeal to consumer's needs." —Reference and Research Book News, December 2012

Product Details

Elsevier Science
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Barnes & Noble
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5 MB

Read an Excerpt

Design for Emotion

By Trevor van Gorp Edie Adams

Morgan Kaufmann

Copyright © 2012 Elsevier, Inc.
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-12-386532-8

Chapter One

Why Design for Emotion?

The ever-changing and ephemeral nature of emotions has led many to believe that it's impossible to consistently trigger emotional responses through design. Over the last three decades, research that examines the relationship between design and emotion has grown steadily. This research has provided new ways to visualize the basic dimensions of emotion, allowing for the creation of models that can help us understand and design for emotional responses. In the upcoming chapters, we'll be describing a number of ways to model and understand how products affect us on different emotional levels.

By the end of this book, you should have a basic understanding of emotion and why users' experiences affect the way they make decisions, become motivated (or unmotivated), behave, and perceive personality. You'll learn when to balance users' emotions through design and you'll be able to predict the emotional level at which you should focus your design efforts. Finally, we'll tie it all together with the A.C.T. framework, along with a set of guidelines for designing more emotional experiences.


When Trevor was a teenager, he would go to the traveling car shows that would come to the convention center near where he grew up. The shows would feature famous cars from movies and television shows, like the General Lee from the Dukes of Hazzard or the Batmobile from the first Batman movie. Occasionally, they would also have what are called "concept cars." Concept cars aren't intended for mass production. Instead, their goal is to showcase new design directions and gauge public reaction to new styling and technology.

Trevor remembers strolling through one of the shows and being entranced with the highlights, sleek lines and gleaming chrome that surrounded him. One vehicle caught his eye, mainly because it had gullwing doors like the car in the Back to the Future movies. He remembers thinking how "cool" it would be to have a car with doors like that, and saying as much to the attendant, seated nearby.

Looking over at him, the attendant asked, "You like this car?" Trevor nodded in the affirmative. "Well," he said, "don't get too excited. It's not like it moves or anything." "Do you mean," Trevor asked in slight shock, "that it has no engine?" Standing slowly, the attendant walked over to the car and put his hand on the door. The windows were tinted, making it almost impossible to see any detail inside. Opening the door to reveal an interior with a very basic steering column and no dash controls, he exhaled deeply and said, "Doesn't really matter how good it looks, if it doesn't move."

Designers are faced with many (often conflicting) considerations when designing interactive products and services. For a concept car, the most important requirement is the appearance. From a business standpoint, the concept car needs to be aesthetically pleasing in order to attract public interest. From a viewer or "user" standpoint, the fact that the concept car is beautiful triggers pleasure and creates attraction. In a different context, a need, other than attraction, might be a higher priority for either the business or the users. In a production vehicle, for example, the most important needs would be functionality and usability, rather than appearance and desirability.

Liz Sanders described three categories of product requirements: useful, usable, and desirable (Sanders, 1992). These three categories are intended as a blanket description, covering all the aspects of users' emotional experiences with products.

Useful: Performs the tasks it was designed for

Usable: Easy to use and interact with

Desirable: Provides feelings of pleasure and creates attraction

To satisfy the goals of your clients (i.e., "the business") and the needs of their customers (i.e., "the users"), your design must be useful. In other words, it must perform the task it was designed for. It must also be usable, or easy to understand and interact with in a predictable and reliable manner. Usability has become a basic business requirement as well as a user expectation. Finally, in order to attract users, your design must also be desirable. For many types of products, the pleasure provided by beauty has become an expected part of the experience during purchasing, ownership and use.

Sometimes, a product can be immensely useful, but because it's a new discovery or a new category of products, it's not yet very usable or aesthetically pleasing. The first computers, for example, were bulky terminals that came with command-line interfaces. As the age of a category of products increases, competitors enter the market with products that offer the same functions. Simple functionality becomes the norm (van Geel, 2011).

When the functional quality of a product increases, usability and aesthetics take on greater importance. As the computer industry and the technology matured, usability and desirability became important differentiators. Today, we have beautiful graphic user interfaces on screens that allow objects to be moved around intuitively via touch on elegantly thin devices. In today's competitive environment, products that neglect aesthetics and usability often fail to attract the attention of demanding consumers. This applies not only to physical products, but also to websites, software and other digital products as well.

Prioritizing Emotional Needs

When it comes to most products, websites, and applications, our emotional needs are complex and multilayered. We want our products to work while also being easy to use. Of course, it doesn't hurt if they also look and feel good. Over time, our emotional responses to these criteria can determine whether a product becomes a beloved tool, or a part of the day you simply put up with.

As designers, we must learn to identify the emotional considerations that are most important for the context of use. From there, we can prioritize these considerations by examining how each affects our ability to fulfill important business goals and satisfy crucial user needs. Designers must balance the goals of the business and the needs of the user with the constraints imposed by the technology.

Some of the most successful products have been embraced because they've managed to satisfy the emotional needs that were most important for their context of use. Because the use context for every product is different, your solution may need to focus more on some areas than others. As we saw in the example of the concept car, some things really only need to focus on being beautiful. The car with no dashboard controls and no engine accomplishes its purpose in the convention center: to show off new styling and generate excitement. But, it's not much use outside on the street.

With a different product, in a different context of use, desirability alone might not suffice. Aesthetics may satisfy users' simple need for pleasure, but providing aesthetics alone won't supply a usable or useful product. On its own, the concept car, for example, doesn't fulfill the average user's needs for a functional commuting vehicle. It won't actually take you anywhere and if it did, there would be no way to safely control the necessary functions.


So why should you design for emotion? The short answer is that emotion is an overriding influence in our daily lives (Damasio, 1994). It constitutes our experiences and colors our realities. Emotion dominates decision making, commands attention and enhances some memories, while minimizing others (Reeves & Nass, 1998).

The emotions we feel allow us to assign meanings to the people and things that we experience in life. Most of the time, pleasure means "good" and pain means "bad." When we use products, websites and software applications, we experience complex social and emotional responses that are no different from the responses we experience when we interact with real people in the real world (Desmet, 2002).

Over time, the emotional expressions that we perceive in both people and things can come to be seen as "personality traits" (van Gorp, 2006). We perceive personality in the things in our environment and then form relationships with those things based on the personalities we've given them (Reeves & Nass, 1998). As Donald Norman put it, "everything has a personality, everything sends an emotional signal. Even when this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view ... infer personalities and experience emotions.... Horrible personalities instill horrid emotional states in their users, usually unwittingly" (van Geel, 2011).

Our tendency to perceive emotion and personality in things is utilized by marketers and advertisers, who target advertisements for particular brands to the audiences of specific shows. The "personality" of each show—represented by its look, feel, and emotional tone—is known to attract an audience that fits certain demographics and has certain tastes. "Modest people are more likely to watch the blue-collar hero show Deadliest Catch, while altruistic people tend to prefer cooking shows like Rachael Ray and reality shows with happy endings like The Bachelor" (Bulik, 2010).

Because of people's natural tendency to perceive personality in things, they also tend to form relationships with those things based in part on the personalities they perceive. Personality traits are powerful factors in design, contributing to what we choose in terms of media (e.g., TV shows, music), the products we purchase and the story of the brands we embrace or ignore (Govers & Schoormans, 2005).

Five Reasons to Design for Emotion

To create better value for both your clients and their customers, you should begin considering your users' emotional responses as part of your design process. Emotions affect key cognitive functions on both the conscious and unconscious levels. Let's take a more detailed look at the reasons that emotion has such a profound influence on the success of a design:

• Emotion is experience.

• All design is emotional design.

• Emotion dominates decision making.

• Emotion commands attention and affects memory.

• Emotion communicates personality, forms relationships, and creates meaning.

Emotion Is Experience

We receive information about the world from our senses. Because we don't have the attention required to process and interpret all the information we receive each day, a lot of the information we encounter is simply screened out (Davenport & Beck, 2001). Our brains then process and interpret the information that has actually made it into our heads. This information is represented and compared to the information we already know.

Together, all this information informs your mental model or "map" of the world and reality. Because no one can be exposed to everything, everyone's map is incomplete. No single person's map can possibly encompass "all" of reality. This inherent limitation naturally leads to some heated debates between people with different "maps" about the nature of existence, god and a number of other interesting questions that we won't attempt to address here.

But let's back up for a minute. What is it that keeps information from being ignored or screened out in the first place? What is it that selects the information that actually gets into our brains and becomes part of our mental models of reality? Attention selects relevant information by focusing on it and deletes information that's considered irrelevant by simply ignoring it. Emotion is the energy that drives and directs attention.

Emotions and other affective states like moods, sentiments and personality traits influence every aspect of our interactions with brands, products, and websites (Forlizzi & Battarbee, 2004). This includes our intentions, our plans, and any feedback on whether we achieve success. Our plans are our internal representations of sequences of events, actions, and consequences. Plans provide a link between the goals we envision in our minds and the actual realization of those goals in the physical world.

Affective states run the range from short-term emotions to long-term personality traits. In this way, affective states act as continuously shifting influences that are always altering perception and triggering the mental processes that lead to behavior.

In emotion research circles, this influence is called "emotional affect" (Russell, 1980). Emotional affect can be envisioned as a lens that constantly colors our realities. This lens is so pervasive and ubiquitous that it's easy to forget that it's there, unless our emotions become intense enough to demand and divert our attention. The color and focus of the lens may change depending on the quality of the emotions we're experiencing, but the lens is always there, subtly influencing how we see the world. We'll be exploring the effects of emotional affect in more detail in Chapter 2.


Excerpted from Design for Emotion by Trevor van Gorp Edie Adams Copyright © 2012 by Elsevier, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Morgan Kaufmann. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Trevor van Gorp has been working in design and visual communication since 1994. He holds a M.E.Des. in Industrial Design and a B.F.A. in Graphic Design. His master’s thesis focused on developing an understanding of how emotion affects and is affected by design.

Formerly a user experience consultant at nForm User Experience, a leading Canadian User Experience firm, Trevor created information architecture, performed interaction design and conducted user research and usability evaluations for clients like the City of Edmonton, Comcast, Ancestry.com, and the Government of Alberta. Presently, he helps his clients develop more usable, useful and pleasurable websites, applications and products as the principal of Affective Design Inc., a user experience consultancy.

Trevor is the author and editor of affectivedesign.org, a popular blog on the intersection of design and emotion. Other recent works include contributions to Deconstructing Product Design by William Lidwell and articles for Boxes and Arrows, a noted industry web magazine. Trevor has given presentations on the topic of designing for emotion at conferences both in North America and internationally.
Edie Adams is the Principal User Experience Manager for the Mac Business Unit (MacBU) at Microsoft Corporation. Prior to joining MacBU, she was developing an understanding of the premium mobile consumer market for the Platform and Core Innovation team in Windows COSD. Edie is trained in occupational ergonomics, product design and design research. She is a CPE (Certified Professional Ergonomist), and holds a M.E.Des. in Industrial Design and a B.Sc. in Psychology from the University of Calgary, where she has been an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Environmental Design.

To begin her career at Microsoft, Edie led a team in the research of physical, cognitive and emotional interactions of people and products for Microsoft Hardware and Strategic Business Divisions. Her innovations have been recognized with over 50 US patents. She has held numerous research and design manager positions in Windows, including Windows Mobile and Tailored Products, the Windows Hardware Innovation Group, and the Windows Hardware and Emerging Markets Group.

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Design for Emotion 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Are you creative professional who designs consumer products, entertainment, software, websites, marketing and communications? If you are, then this book is for you! Authors Trevor van Gorp and Edie Adams, have done an outstanding job of writing a book that appreciates the importance of evoking emotions and communicating personalities to capture viewers’ attention and create satisfying experiences. Authors van Gorp and Adams, begin by discussing the goals of designing for emotion and providing reasons why you should be considering emotional responses as part of the design process. In addition, the authors help you understand the basic dimensions of emotion and to predict how your design decisions will affect users’ emotions. They then explain why some products become meaningful to users. The authors then, examine how design communicates emotion and personality to your users. Next, they introduce the A.C.T. model, which is a framework for addressing the users’ emotional needs. Finally, the authors feature interviews and case studies from industry leaders researching and applying emotion to design.  This most excellent book was written to help you create designs that do a better job of communicating emotion and personality to fulfill users’ need. Perhaps more importantly, the authors explore how to practically apply these unconscious associations to express emotion and personality through design.