Designing for an emotional journey
Experiencing products and services
People are rapidly processing new information while interacting with a service, and inevitably reacting to it. While some of these reactions are conscious, I think there’s a necessity to explore the subconscious and less obvious, longer-term impacts services and products have on us.
If you think about the last time you used a service or product, you probably don’t sit around going through every step you experienced and how it made you feel. Let’s walk through the process of ordering an Uber. This involves tasks such as:
- Finding the app on your phone
- Waiting for the interface to load
- Typing in your desired address
- Choosing the Uber type
- Waiting for the car
- Meeting your driver
Let’s isolate one of those steps for a minute — I’m going to choose waiting for the car. For me, this usually involves double checking the number plate to see I’m not jumping in a non-uber driver’s car and freaking a stranger out (it’s happened). All the while I’m feeling an interesting combination of excited that the car’s finally arrived and apprehensive about who the driver is… I could keep going but you probably get the point.
On a regular day you most likely don’t usually give these things much thought. You probably just think, “okay cool I’ll order an Uber” and that’s it, right?
Each of these steps has the power to elicit a reaction, which increases as you stack multiple complexities to the experience. For example; timely, environmental factors — maybe there’s a traffic jam and it’s increasing your impatience and subconsciously you start to feel annoyed at the driver before they’ve even arrived.
The impact of personal vs transactional products
It’s hard to predict and measure emotional responses as it’s such a personal thing that takes into account one’s experiences, world views and more. (This is an example of the importance of testing while designing!)
However, in general the more a product touches on one’s personal thoughts which are typically more private, the more significant the impact will be. For example, a fitness app made to track goals and daily practice is likely to have a higher impact on one’s mindset and lifestyle than a product about art which is made to be used once in a while.
A designer’s responsibility
What does this mean for the people who create products and services?
As designers we have a responsibility to anticipate and acknowledge the user’s emotional journey when using our products and services.
Products that we use everyday in what often becomes a mindless habit have the potential to create subconscious reactions. We need to design with all use cases in mind in order to guide people in a healthy way through the emotional highs and lows they may experience. We need to use empathy and do our best to imagine our audience’s reactions and observe it first hand where possible.
Why do we have to do this? While it’s a universal given that leaving people on an emotional low point is a dangerous and undesired outcome (feelings of stress, despair, or hopelessness), leaving people on an emotional high with a false sense of hope can be equally as dangerous. Highs often give people a sense of security and excitement about a situation, which we can’t always verify to be true. Neither of these are our intention or aim.
How we do it
At Mentally Friendly we use agile methodologies to constantly iterate on what we learn. Testing concepts and executed designs in front of real people from the first sprint of a project often involves asking personal questions and observing what elicits positive or negative reactions, and what we can do to improve them. It’s important to explain to stakeholders the value of testing not only how people react to our products, but the deeper affect and impact it has on them. This makes telling a customers’ story an extremely powerful tool in communicating the effect a business can have on society, and making design decisions based on testing insights.
While testing is vital to our design process, it raises ethical questions about our duty of care for testing participants — a process we’re constantly refining. Before we’ve designed neutral points to end a user’s journey with our product or service, usability and concept testing sessions or conversations have a higher possibility of affecting our participants. Sometimes it’s out of our hands, for example if we’ve recruited participants through an external company and it’s up to that organisation to follow up on the participant.
As designers of products and services aimed towards wellbeing, we often need to elicit a certain level of tension or anxiety to get people to acknowledge risks and ultimately create motivation.
The process of change requires stages that acknowledge problems or things that could be improved. Most people reading this will be able to relate to high school memories of the pressure of a deadline making them stay up late in order to actually write their essays last minute (sorry mum). This can be stressful depending on the person and type of change we’re talking about — for example, challenging one’s current spending or consumption habits.
Acknowledging that people are likely to experience emotional highs and lows as a step towards making change enables us to design neutral checkpoints in the product or service.
One example of this was a service we co-designed with a client; a conversation with milestones that we validated through testing as safe, in a sense of the customer experiencing neutral emotions, with clear tasks to follow up on their own. We also provided a timing guideline to help the facilitator decide whether they should continue the conversation or end it and book a follow up appointment — if there isn’t enough time to reach the next safe or neutral milestone.
We also design training with and for staff facilitating services we’ve helped co-design, and follow up cadence processes in each of our experiences.
Like everything we do in our work, every step in a journey (whether a product, service or both) needs to be co-designed by users and facilitators. By concept and feature testing every aspect, we can ensure we have done as much as possible to make it as positive as possible for all audiences.
This piece was written by Isabel, our Sydney based Strategist.
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