Emotion and User Experience


According to Eric Schaffer in his post Beyond Usability: Designing Web Sites for Persuasion, Emotion, and Trust (on UXmatters) – persuasive design is the next big thing.

I don’t know about you, but this is nothing new, For me the User Experience of a web site has always been more than the usability or achieving the sites business goals. Some say that we should be telling a story or translating those magical moments in real life onto web. Now in order to do this I would have thought it was a given that we have to engage with people on an emotion level and build trust. After all a good deal of our experiences are at least tinged with our emotions. We are after all emotional beings.

Yes, the influence of emotion and persuasion in the equation is plainly beyond usability.

Eric sees persuasive design as:

…designing for persuasion, emotion, and trust… basis in a deep understanding of customers’ subtle emotional triggers and employs a rigorous set of new, research-based methods and techniques… it is fundamentally more qualitative, deep, and subtle than usability….

As Eric points out there is a distinct need for the ecommerce sector to overcome the traditional marketing model that is currently being churned out with the more understanding the UX focused emotional driven model.

But really this is nothing new also, look at modern real life retail, that is what it is all about now, the overall experience. For example take an exclusive clothing store, the place often has a refreshing smell, with relaxing music, the clothing is placed for easy access, the sales assistants are helpful, but not pushy. Nothing is too much trouble. You feel relaxed, at ease, among friends, there is a emotional synergy, a trust. However false this maybe, the emotion sell is still there. So why should the web be any different, granted the web can be a little old fashioned and behind in some areas.

Still a web site should be designed considering the user and their experience with the site. Isn’t it a given, that you want the experience emotionally to be a good one, one that will build a loyalty, a degree of trust.

So it follows that by engaging with people emotional with the user experience of the web site will, if done right, have some persuasive influence on the final outcome. Ethics on the matter aside. Hasn’t this been the heart of UX all along.

What do you think I’m I right, or is this persuasive design the next big thing?

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  1. Gary, what you are talking about is the realisation that the fundamental principles of communication between people are the same, whether it’s on the web, in print, on TV, or face to face over a shop counter.

    If you have a second look at a lot of stuff that’s written about communicating on the web, there’s nothing new in it except that it is being “discovered” all over again by a new generation (or by an old generation who are coming to terms with a new medium).

    However, I do agree with Eric Schaffer when he says that persuasion design is the next big thing. I think is his main point is that basic “can do” web usability is now well understood, and “want to” usability is where value is. Of course, he has a commercial interest in pushing that concept, but that doesn’t make it any less valid.

  2. @James : so how is persuasion design (ignoring Eric’s sell) different from the promotion of a User Experience that is aligned to the business goals. I really don’t think this anything new for the UX community. Maybe for Eric, but for the rest of us it’s just business as usual.

    Yes I do agree this “knowledge” needs to be extended to the rest of the web design community at large.

  3. @Gary: the difference is the focus on specific tools/techniques that assist “persuasion”, rather than the broader UX, which is about creating a “good experience for the user”.

    I think users can have a good experience of website without being persuaded to buy (or whatever the website’s goal is).

    But probably not the reverse situation i.e. without a good experience, the chances of successful persuasion are much less.

  4. @James: for the hard core practioner that is doing it by the book, this is true. Just doing the usability, just giving a good UX. This is very UCD based.

    But surely people have moved on from this into a more Business or Goal Centric Design. Maybe not? That is what I’m discussing.

    This “persuasive design” seems to be more born from Spool’s discussion at last years IAsummit.

    From an IA / UX view “persuasive design” is not new. Maybe Eric has just put a dirty little label on it.

  5. I don’t think Eric is presenting anything new either. There have been so much talk about designing persuasive web site for the longest time.

    If anything is new, it is the increase in awareness that a more holistic view of customers experience with businesses is important. It’s not just about the engaging the masses solely on the web, just using print, tv or traditional media individually anymore; but application of various channels in parallel towards achieving a total experience for their customers. It’s awareness that all interaction points with customers have to be considered and optimised to ensure a positive and consistent customer engagement experience.

    If I’m not persuaded to buy at a shopping site, it is highly possible that my experience with the site has not been good enough to convince my buy decision.

  6. You’re right Gary, it’s nothing new. It’s always been a consideration and the evidence has been available, primarily from other industries and fields but has always been around on the web. Just perhaps not really applied, just like consideration of usability wasn’t really applied up until a few years ago – except by the people who really “got it” from the beginning.

    Also I just see these as the elements Desirable (emotion) and Credible (trust) from Peter Morville’s UX honeycomb from 5 years ago which I touched on in my presentation last week. Nothing new.

  7. @Nat, thanks, I had totally forgotten about the basics and Morville’s honeycomb. Guess it’s just got processed (by me) and was there from way back, just absorbed into the greater UX principles etc we all work with day to day.

  8. The emphasis is indeed fundamentally different. It’s sugar-coating the notion of persuasion. Framing it as virtuous somehow, tagging it with warmly authentic words like trust and emoiton. More accurately, persuasion is simply what’s commonly practiced in pursuit of commerce; value-neutral.

    Per James Bull: “I think users can have a good experience of website without being persuaded to buy (or whatever the website’s goal is).”

    Now *that* to me is self-evident. And surprising to me some people take persuasion as a given, without recognizing ethical impacts (from education to outright manipulation) to other humans who are interacting with our designs.

    My emphasis as a designer and information architect is to free up and empower humans (aka “users” aka “customers”), to make them more not less mindful, to be aware of the choices they’re making (to be aware that they are, in fact, making choices). Not mindlessly stumbling into snares laid for them or to be persuaded. To be transparent, to bring the background agenda to the foreground. Or, as Peter Morville said a decade ago: To make the invisible visible.

    Not always possible, but when the balance tips too far toward consciously intending to strip people of their autonomy and rewarding them for following my persuasive lead (on behalf of my employer or client) I get someone else to do their dirty work for them.

  9. I think this is the right approach: considering (user) experience also outside the “website” (in its classic concept). It’s fundamental to reach the user / consumer where he /she wants to be reached.

    I’d like to know what you think about extending uX outside the website through architecture:

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