Want to create user experiences that are positive and satisfying for your customers? Success lies in designing products that support the way people think and behave.

The defining moments of our lives are typically associated with emotions. When we encounter a situation, we encode our psychophysiological response to it (whether it’s positive or negative) into our long-term memory for future recall. These memories can then be sought later on, or triggered unintentionally by similar sensory experiences.

In fact, though unpleasant, negative emotional responses are particularly useful to us. They program us to look out for and avoid the behaviours that have landed us in dangerous, uncomfortable situations in the past.

Dr. Robert Plutchik, an American psychologist, proposed that there are eight primary emotions that serve as the foundation for all others, and that emotions are activated due to specific stimuli, which set off certain behavioural patterns. (Krohn, 2007)

Plutchik's wheel of emotions

At the heart

So, what does this mean for marketing and experience design? Researchers Keith Oatley and Philip Johnson-Laird (1987, at the Universities of Glasgow and Cambridge) suggest that we use emotions to make choices, by weighing up how successful each course of action might be.

This means that it’s the responsibility of businesses and designers to develop products and services that understand their customers’ desire for an efficient, positive user experience. These products and services should play to the strengths (and support the limitations) of the human cognitive processes: attention, memory, language, reasoning, problem-solving and decision-making.

The quickest way to frustrate any user is by impeding them on their path to achieving their goal.

Clear the road

When product or service interactions negatively affect our emotional state, we often refuse to carry on using them or seek an alternative. However, we don’t always have this luxury – if we’re duty-bound to achieve a goal, for example.

Take online applications – once the responsibility of the customer service representative, many businesses have offloaded this task onto the customer. Completing these forms is a process that involves a significant amount of cognitive effort, takes up precious time and often results in a negative emotional experience for the customer.

That’s why anyone who’s used online services to get quotes can relate to Aviva’s ‘get a quote – not a quiz’ advert for contents insurance. The ad prompts those familiar negative emotions we recognise from the typical comparison website journey; the ad then amplifies these negative emotions in a playful way, and offers the solution: their website.

Given the number of brokers and comparison sites competing today, Aviva needed to find a way to get noticed and attract new customers directly; their advert achieved just that. Their process is quicker and simpler than many other online insurers – much like the ad promises – and so their ad works. (On me, anyway – I’m now a customer.)

Inside insight

Successful campaigns and user experiences like Aviva’s are built on research that uncovers the pain points in a user’s journey. As well as our desire to avoid negative emotional states, studies show that we’re less able to store information that isn’t seen as emotionally significant. This is because human memory is limited, both in terms of capacity and the duration we can maintain it in an active state. Brand products and experiences need to account for this, by doing everything possible to smooth the process and make up for our cognitive shortcomings.

In fact, for many online services, success lies in the user’s ability to achieve their objectives while barely noticing the interface is there.

For many online services, success lies in the user’s ability to achieve their objectives while barely noticing the interface is there.

To design products or services with seamless, positive user experiences and emotional responses, we must identify the desires, needs, and the expectations of the intended user. Ignoring these will almost always lead to negative emotion – and ultimately, disengagement. That’s why user research is one of the most important aspects of any product design process.

The flat white

In another example, McDonald’s recently tapped into our emotions with an ad focused on the flat white and the cliquey coffee-shop culture that surrounds it. It de-mystifies the flat white by highlighting that awkward moment when you feel like you’re not ‘in the club’ because you don’t understand coffee-shop lingo. The ad features a cross-section of society who are all equally unsure of what a flat white actually is, striking a chord with a wide range of people by focusing on a single, shared emotional response.

The takeaway

By actively surfacing problems, brands can trigger previous emotions experienced by customers (good or bad) and use it to showcase their solution in the form of products or services with good experiences.

Empathy is at the heart of experience design; if we understand users, we can make designs that are relevant for them. It’s crucial to ensure brands can understand their customers’ feelings, behaviours and mind-sets to build products and brand experiences accordingly – and uncovering these insights only comes from user research.

If you want to find out how you can optimise your user experience, get in touch with Jonny West at jonny.west@saintnicks.uk.com