Consumers crave “personal meaning” in products and services. To innovate, new methods are being developed to help designers understand the emotions that drive consumer decisions.
Design and Emotions
We are at a point in time where companies can no longer compete simply on technology. Technology has become relatively inexpensive — and rampant. Many companies face competitors that are equal in technical expertise. The competition has simply caught up.
At the other end of the spectrum consumers are becoming less impressed with a new technology. After enduring decades of continuous change and high-tech obsolescence that often could be measured in months rather than years, and burdened with the continual need to learn and relearn how to use even basic household items, consumers’ tolerance for change has been sorely tested.
People are shying away from the next “best thing” and opting for products that “work for me.” As a result words like emotion and personal meaning are finding their way into corporate strategic briefs, in places where words like gigabytes and baud rate used to reside. Even new descriptions of great design — easy, accessible, affordable, empowering and personal — reflect on the person rather than the object.
…words like emotion and personal meaning are finding their way into corporate strategic briefs, in places where words like gigabytes and baud rate used to reside.
Focus on People
The classic model of product development is changing. Companies have traditionally focused on the next best thing — be it a manufacturing method, or technology — to stay ahead of the competition and attract customers.
Many companies, even high-tech outfits known for innovation, are finding it more difficult, and sometimes impossible, to compete solely on technology. With the classic model, the marketing department was the primary contact with the consumer. But the new paradigm calls for designers, to a greater extent than ever before, to understand people in ways relevant to design.
Emotional Mapping is a design process that uncovers feelings and attitudes towards products. It gathers information on why people prefer one product over the other. It identifies key attributes, tangible and intangible, overt and subtle, conscious and subconscious, that help connect products and people. This insight can focus a design team’s creativity, add clout to the creative process, and result in more innovative, radical and successful ideas.
The procedure for gathering this information is simple. Through a paper- or computer-based survey, people rate their impressions of a product. For example: Responding to words or sentences that place opposite meanings at either end of a scale, people reveal their opinions in ways they would not be likely to articulate in normal conversation.
We then perform two types of analyses. The first step is to look at the basic results. We tally the responses and the average scores, allowing us to measure and compare the emotional reactions for each design and emotion included in the study. In this step it is also helpful to graphically plot every response, allowing us to detect patterns that might otherwise have gone unnoticed.
For example, a middle-of-the-road score will not in itself show if the score was the result of everyone being rather neutral towards the design, or if it elicited a love-hate relationship in which half the respondents gave it a high rating and half gave it a low rating.
Sometimes love-hate relationships can be great news, since the “love” group consists of probable buyers (a point that sometimes is lost in early R&D efforts). For the design team, this gives weight to more innovative, even radical ideas, that may otherwise be bypassed as too risky.
Secondly, and perhaps even more important to the creative process, we look for associations — the attributes that most strongly align with people’s overall positive or negative reactions to a product. This insight directly drives the design team’s subsequent explorations.
At the risk of oversimplifying, here is a quick example, using a simple product: Band-Aids.
There are a number of Band-Aids variations and other brands of adhesive bandages on the market, employing different shapes, materials and methods of wound care.
In addition to the traditional cotton gauze bandages current offerings include gel based bandages, designed to keep the wound wet, not dry it out. Wet wound care, although possibly counter-intuitive, results in faster, more natural healing. Gel bandages work best if they remain untouched on the wound for two days. These bandages would therefore need to be comfortable (nonirritating) and aesthetic.
Are some bandages more comfortable than others? Does comfort change over time? Do some look worse after a while?
The design team may also theorize, for example, that qualities such as “masculine” or “feminine” may be a factor. Do males prefer a “masculine” Band-Aid, since they have to wear it? Or is the opposite true — are “feminine” qualities in Band-Aid more appealing, possibly being more strongly associated with caring, cleanliness, nurturing and health?
In this sample study we gave our volunteers two different types of Band-Aids, a Finger-Wrap design and an Advanced Healing type. The Finger Wrap differs from traditional Band-Aid strips in that the absorbent pad is positioned towards one end of the adhesive strip, not the center. This allows easier application, especially for people self-administering a Band-Aid, using their non-wounded hand to apply the bandage to the wounded hand.
The second Band-Aid in our study, the Advanced Healing design, incorporates the gel instead of the cotton gauze pad, providing wet wound care. This product boasts a unique shape and has a rubber-like feel.
In addressing emotion, the design team needs to understand intangible factors. They may include feelings about comfort, cleanliness and healing, aesthetics, first impressions of whether or not the bandage would stay on, perceived value of the product, and overall positive or negative perceptions. Furthermore, the design team will benefit from knowing if these reactions change over the time the bandage is being used.
Through Emotional Mapping we are able to measure these responses and track them. The analysis shows the importance of various attributes, which can be identified even without having a bandage that completely fulfills every attribute on the design team’s list. The analysis will begin to define “virtual prototypes.”
While a complete study may look into 15 or 20 attributes (sometimes more), we’ll discuss just a few in this example.
The results show that the Finger Wrap bandage, at first glance, received a rather neutral response. It did not look particularly comfortable, and our consumers didn’t especially like it. The first chart (Figure 1) shows that before application this bandage fell approximately midpoint for both attributes.
When the Finger Wrap bandage was evaluated a second time, immediately after application, feelings improved (Figure 2). While consumers were only a little less skeptical about its comfort, the experience of putting it on (remember, the Finger-Wrap bandage was designed to be easy to apply) led users to liking it considerably better.
Next, compare first impressions of the two different bandage designs (Figure 3). On first glance, when just taken out of the box, the Advanced Healing bandage was better liked and perceived to be more comfortable — and our consumers were in close agreement (indicated by the relatively small blue oval on the chart.)
Perceptions changed after six hours of use, however, as differences in opinion concerning the two products decreased. Feelings about the Finger Wrap bandage improved while positive feelings about the Advanced Healing bandage decreased (Figure 4).
Quantifying information in this manner gives the design team more insight, and the power and authority to address it. The next step would be to develop improvements. In this case, shape, texture and feel of the strip material on the Finger Wrap could be improved to increase the perception of comfort, as well as its actual comfort. Aesthetics and perception of “friendliness” should also be addressed, since both are strongly correlated with liking the bandage.
The second product, the Advanced Healing bandage, has the opposite problem — a good first impression that, unfortunately, lets people down over time. In a redesign of this product, the team’s attention should be directed towards ease of application and, among the long term issues, comfort.
Our second “predictive” method of analysis — correlations — identifies the factors that strongly influence consumers’ decisions. These are the attributes most deserving attention: those that would give most bang for the design-development buck. With Band-Aids, design needs to focus attention on friendly, comfortable, useful, and looks (Figure 5). The next step for the design team is to interpret these findings and translate them into more effective designs. In the course of a full project, new designs that the team creates would, in turn, be evaluated to see how the new concepts “emotionally connect.”
A complete Emotional Mapping analysis is a little more involved than this quick explanation, but the above example provides the gist of what it entails. These insights provide direction, not just for the development team but for marketing and advertising groups as well.
Past applications of Emotional Mapping have aligned the team, focused efforts on concepts that are more meaningful, and expedited the design process. Most importantly, the insights of this process spark innovation.
While emotions aren’t everything, emotional connections are on the critical path to product success. Products and services need to connect emotionally and physically. And they must perform, or enhance the performance of the people using them. Products need to be safe, effective, dependable and interesting. Emotional Mapping methods are part of an overall picture.
Originally published in BusinessWeek.