Want to write a kick-ass user journey? Start with emotion.


To understand UX, let me start with a story.

A guy goes to a party. He meets a girl. He goes to her place. He proposes to her. They get married in secret. Her cousin tries to fight him. After his best friend is fatally wounded, he kills her cousin. He visits his wife in secret. Days later, he goes to her tomb, kills another guy, drinks poison and dies.

Besides the fact that there are a few backstories, one of the biggest things we would probably be wondering is, “why did he do all these crazy things?”. That is what would happen when the biggest plot driver — emotion — is conveniently left out of the synopsis.

In UX, this is how we typically see user journeys — user does this, then this, finally this. It’s typically helpful to have a user journey to see how a user interacts with your business — the series of behaviors a user would take towards a certain outcome.

Thank goodness, Shakespeare never wrote Romeo and Juliet as a typical user journey. The most interesting and empathic stories are stories with tension, frustration and excitement! This is what real users and real life are like. We are always designing for our emotional hero — the user. This can have implications on how and when we communicate with a user, how we design experiences for that user, and what solutions we envision to help the user out.

Why Emotions Matter

Enter the emotional user journey.

Emotional reactions are crucial to this journey as most of our decisions are driven in large part by our emotions [1]. Emotions not only trigger specific behaviors, often subconsciously, they are also not easy to control personally. Emotions may be associated with something from as simple as a pleasant experience to something more impactful such as loyalty.

This journey infuses the emotions that the user is feeling at each step of the journey. So why is it so important to understand the emotional user journey?

  • It helps explain certain behaviors
  • It helps people predict other possible behaviors
  • It may be able to predict points of drop-off
  • It identifies dramatic drops in emotion (this difference hurts, even if it is from highly positive to baseline)
  • It identifies the most critical negative instances where the user may need help from design, technology, or communications
  • It identifies the most critical positive instances where design, technology, or communications can capitalize on or extend this feeling

An Emotional User Journey Kicks Ass

Here is an example of how people invest.

What we know is that there are two points of high negativity — (1) deciding what to invest in and (2) parting with money. We also know there is a real high point to investing — seeing your money grow in the future. Understanding these peaks and troughs are crucial to understanding how we can handle these moments.

Let’s look at the first big trough.

Firstly, during this point of decision-making, people often feel scared and helpless. The objective of the solution, at this point, is to increase confidence by providing progressive information that users can manage without feeling overwhelmed. Until the user feels that they are making an informed decision, they will not proceed.

Secondly, the high point is when people see how their money could grow through investment. This feeling should be amplified as it is one of the main drivers of investments. Finances and the future are abstract concepts that people find hard to wrap their heads around. Providing visualizations that help people quantify their savings, either by using simple charts to chart investment growth or providing a tangible outcome such as final payment date of mortgage payment, helps people make their investments real. The more interactive this information is, the more engaged users will be where it counts.

Now, here is where we talk about the dramatic drop in emotion as users go through from envisioning a brighter future to the cold reality of forking out the money. People hate parting with money as it makes them feel vulnerable and nervous. Thus, we have to ensure that our solution reduces these feelings. Giving reassurances through clear and simple terms and conditions, providing individuals with ways to back out or cancel, providing the ability to revisit information, and confirming receipts are some ways ease the pain.

Incorporating Emotions into User Journeys

Here is how one can employ these techniques into creating user journeys.

  • Infuse your research with queries on emotion.
  • During interviews or surveys, ask about the user journey with users (“Which part of this process was the most frustrating/enjoyable for you?”).
  • Turn to digital analytics (highest rates of drop-off, highest rates of engagement).
  • If applicable, read feedback on existing applications
  • Look at biofeedback measures (pupil dilation, skin conductance, etc.).
  • Observe and ask during user testing. Look at nonverbal cues (furrowed eyebrows, sighs, raised eyebrows, smiles) to follow up on how they feel a particular point in testing.

While none of these are magic bullets and each has its own drawbacks, they provide us with a starting point. Consider if some of these approaches are applicable to the problems you’re tackling. Knowing how users feel along the journey is crucial in setting up environments that help them when they need it and embrace their joy when they’re experiencing it. This is also a good way of pinpointing new design opportunities at the instances they need it most.

We have a hero going along his journey and we have an unique opportunity to support him along the way to make his journey a successful one. We want to be there when Romeo falls in love — how can we allow him to enjoy this moment longer? We want to be there when Romeo discovers his fake-dead bride — how can we improve communication between him and the nurse so he gets Juliet’s crucial message on time? As designers, we have the ability to change the narrative of these two star-crossed lovers. The emotional user journey can be the difference between a great experience and a tragedy ;)

[1] http://www.nature.com/nrn/journal/v14/n2/full/nrn3403.html