What is emotional design?
When we think of user experience, we immediately focus on efficiency and effectiveness, and whilst that is the foundation of a good experience, there’s more to providing an experience that customers will love and advocate for.
The key principle is that ‘All design is emotional design’ (Van Gorp, 2012), whether it’s good or bad. Emotions influence the decisions users make, their focus of attention and the tone of memories they remember. They also add meaning
to products. The concept of emotional design has evolved around the importance of the roles emotions play in the user’s experience.
This article is not a theoretical explanation of emotional design but a collection of examples where the concept of all, or some, of the 3 emotional levels (Norman, 2004) have been satisfied and makes the product / interaction stand out from the competition.
Image source: https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/the-reflective-level-of-emotional-design
1. Look: the visceral level
What most bank interfaces often miss, is that, even when users log in to their online banking to complete a series of tasks, they will only ever be able to start one single task at a time. As much as they need to know that there is a range of activities
available in their online banking, they don’t have to be presented with all of them at once. Compared to some retail banks, arriving at Starling's Dashboard is a relief.
The visceral level (one of the 3 emotional levels of the Norman model) is the preconscious layer of emotions, where the overall perception, ‘gut feeling’ and general first impression, dominates, creating an immediate emotional impact. The
Starling dashboard demonstrates the principle of the visceral level perfectly.
The psychological benefit of this is that one positive experience provides the user with a positive context for subsequent journeys, and makes them more forgiving. So when I started sending money from my account and reached the ‘Pay’ button,
that was confusingly labelled ‘Pay’ and not the more common ‘Confirm’ or ‘Make Transfer’, instead of panicking I just trusted Starling and pressed
the button anyway. This moves us to the next layer of emotions - trust and reliability.
2. Function: the behavioural level
The second level, the behavioral level, is about being immersed in the experience, and what we concern as usability; the functionality, effectiveness and performance. At this layer, users assess the reliability of the product and learn to trust the experience.
Plum and Truelayer: Educational transition
On the second behavioral level of emotion, Plum and Truelayer make an excellent example of how to make effectiveness and performance pleasurable. Opening up their own financial information to experiment with a new tool is still a scary decision for most
users. Truelayer not just connects Plum with the banks but they take the user on an educational journey, enabling them to understand just enough at each step. This is not just comfort but it cultivates trust and reliability.
Cleo: Transparent onboarding
Cleo, an AI budgeting app that speaks millennial humour, provides an onboarding journey that most apps could learn from. Before the user decides to connect their bank account to Cleo, they can explore the interface and all the functionalities. This journey
is not just educating the user in an interactive way, but also preventing it from being just another app and being neglected because of a laborious login journey.
3. Impact and meaning: the reflective level
I am sure that there will be a time in the future when fintech companies will unlock the 3rd, reflective level of emotional design and users will all proudly change their desktop backgrounds to their favourite fintech brand’s logo, but we’re
not there just yet. In fact, no business can get to this stage by failing to create a usable product.
“Here you think back about the product, reflecting upon its total appeal and the experience of using it.” Norman, 2008
Monzo card: Self-image
A few years ago, Mondo (before becoming Monzo, the bank) created a ‘hot coral’ (Wired, 2020) and everyone wanted one. This was not (just) because of the colour of the card itself but the promise of a new and exciting bank and the self-image
of a trailblazer customer who does banking differently. It became a status symbol.
Image source: https://medium.com/@jockking/new-bank-on-the-block-mondo-b19c61b4d766
Compared to the first 2 levels, reflective is a conscious emotional level. Users make judgements and become consciously aware of what they value (or don’t). Emotional connection to products at this level comes from reflection and may be the most
exposed to subjectivity.
A commonly cited example from the physical world would be when the user keeps the brands packaging, even after unwrapping a product. With digital products, the manifestation of the same result is a cool new colour that becomes synonymous with modern banking,
or a product name that’s used as a verb. (e.g. Let me Cleo my money to see if I can spend more = Let me check my budget on Cleo …). But none of this is possible without understanding the users.
Understanding user emotions
Any truly great experience involves all 3 layers. People must both need, and be able to use the product, before they can love it. But it’s not just functionality. There’s an element of aesthetics and fun, and also the critical part of helping
the users to do their tasks.
There is no golden rule that will appeal to everyone. The secret of creating the right experience is in getting to know the users and their needs, understanding why everyday finances and digital experiences are stressful for users and what needs to be
done to support them in a unique way.
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- Van Gorp, 2012: Van Gorp T., Adams E. (2012). Design for Emotions. Waltham, MA: Elsevier.
- Norman, 2004: Norman, Donald Arthur (2004). Emotional Design - Why we love (or hate) things. Basic Books.