IBM Design
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IBM Design

Stop selling a product. Start evoking feelings.

How shifting away from a feature mindset and focusing on evoking feelings brings you closer to success.

The trigger
Last weekend my wife and I went out for happy hour. As we indulged in discounted appetizers and beverages I started to think — and not for the first time — how we’re willing to pay a premium for things we could purchase ourselves and consume at home for pennies on the dollar. I figured this openness to spend our money is in short, because when we go out for dinner or drinks, for example, we’re not buying goods, but are instead investing in the feelings of engaging with a service; dare I say an experience.

This article isn’t about economics or psychological behaviors, of which I’m mostly ignorant about, but about how emotions make us spend our hard-earned money and don’t lose a minute of sleep. I’m not here to debate the difference or similarities between UX Design and Service Design roles or expertise. Lot’s of people already did that in way better ways than I can. I won’t even go there.

I’m here because that little happy hour triggered a feeling:

I’m tired of being sold products as a list of features that will make all my worries go away without the tiniest interest on how said product makes me feel when I use it. And, I don’t want to be a designer who does that to others.

Selling vs evoking
Since you’re reading this, I’m inviting you (and challenging myself) to stop enumerating why your users should buy the things you’re designing, building, or making, and start showing them how your product can make them better at what they do. Consider these two statements and reflect on which product you’d be most interested in engaging with:

Statement 1:
Our tool allows you to decide how and when to get notified — with a single click — and helps you avoid junk mail too.”

Statement 2:
“When using our product, you’ll be able to feel productive by reducing disruptions and focusing on the things that matter to you.”

As design and development professionals, our customers use the apps, tools or products we produce to do their respective jobs. They use our stuff to make their stuff. Sadly, most employees don’t have a big say on which tools or products their company makes them use. Think about this: one of your users is asked to be an efficient and productive employee and she needs to use your product. If that product sucks, your user will never be an advocate for it. And, at first chance, will recommend one of your competitors as a better option to her manager, colleagues or friends. There goes your sales moment, your revenue, your loyal customer. The opportunity you had to transform your user into a product advocate is gone, and in the experience business second chances are hard to come by.

The goal should be for the tools and products we make to help people feel like the best version of themselves.

When our customers use our tools they should feel productive, smart, in-the-zone. The feelings they experience while interacting with the product should make them want to use it more. That’s when our job as design professionals is fulfilled. When our users feel free to focus on the task at hand, their responsibilities, and not the frustration they feel when using a crappy product we all win.

An invitation
I’m preaching this to myself, but also inviting you to, regardless of role, push your team to invest time and energy on instilling feelings of empowerment in your users. Make them feel great about what they do, and have your product serve as a facilitator for their professional success. If you focus less on feature sets and more on creating moments of delight, then you can shift your company’s mentality from one that solely measures success by quarterly profit, to one that’s driven by making users love using the things you make.

These positive feelings will transform your user from a customer into a loyal advocate for your company; a brand ambassador. When that happens, your product won’t sell magically but you’ll be in a better position to have a two-sided conversation with your users where you stop convincing them of the features and widgets you offer, and begin to discuss how you can help them feel better about what they are trying to do, and the impact they provide to their company, peers and end-users.

Users will pay if they enjoy the experience because it warrants the price tag; it’s an investment not an expense. But, without an emotional connection to your product your users will most often choose the cheapest option. Ensure your product isn’t preferred just because it’s cheap even though it makes users pull their hair out when interacting with it. Stop asking users what features they need and want and start listening to how they feel around their favorite tools and how they feel when using yours. If you don’t fit into the “tools I enjoy using” bucket, then devote all your energy into finding out why that is and take the necessary steps to fix that.


  1. Treat your product’s interface as the front door to establish a conversation with your user, not just a fancy visual layer.
  2. Push your team to focus on evoking feelings of empowerment in your users, and then make it easy for them to purchase it.
  3. Make it your north star to build user loyalty by helping your user feel like her best productive self thanks (in part) to your product.

/// Closing notes
After I finished writing this article, I re-read my first professional-ish article from 2015 and noticed it touched on some of the points I’m making now. It seems they’ve been lingering in my subconscious ever since. If you want to get deeper into the relationship between emotions and design check out some great resources like this or this one that is still so relevant. It seems Emotional Design is a thing.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on anything related to this article. Specially, on how reading it made you feel, and if they were feelings you enjoyed or ones you never want to experience again. Cheers!

Esteban Pérez-Hemminger is a husband, cat dad and Senior Design Lead at IBM Studios in Austin, TX. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.



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