When it comes to product design, ‘empathy’ is a buzzword. As always, it’s just a fancy way of saying something very simple: let’s consider the user’s feelings when designing products. Errrr yeah… why wouldn’t we? 🤔 But, what seems pretty obvious, AI is taking to a whole new level.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to recognise the emotions of others, and use this to inform decision-making ¹.
It’s a pretty desirable trait. People with high EQ are consistently rated more likeable, persuasive and clever ². They are seen as more trustworthy and generally great to be around. We expect EQ from humans. Why not our products?
Likeable, persuasive, clever… product managers around the world are optimising for exactly these qualities! Interfaces should be likable. Content should be persuasive. Apps should be clever.
EQ in AI
AI marches on. Inevitably so. Companies like Boston Dynamics boast eerily lifelike robots, convoys of driverless cars patrol our roads, and Google DeepMind has systematically ruined board games for us all. These landmark achievements all solve a common problem: given the current state of things, what should I do next?
Thing is, the best decisions frequently depend on the feelings of those around us. When choosing the right song or movie for an occasion, it helps to know the mood of the audience. Similarly, an astute agent knows only to ask for favours when the would-be favour-giver is in a generous frame of mind. In short, AI needs some way of knowing how we feel. AI needs EQ.
Fortunately, empathetic AI exists! Companies across the globe are creating emotion recognition systems that detect the feelings of their users. Or to put it another way, we can now digitise empathy. This is achieved via three main techniques:
- Facial recognition (e.g. Affectiva and Kairos)
- Speech processing (e.g. Beyond Verbal and audEERING)
- Biometric analysis (e.g. Limbic — I’d be remiss not to mention my own startup).
Emotion AI is coming. So what does this mean for product design?
Emotional Design 2.0
The creators of products are responsible for how the future will look. As computers become emotionally aware, products gain the ability to react to our feelings. This is a paradigmatic shift. Design need no longer be hardcoded, but adaptive in real time. The way our applications look and behave will soon adjust to our mood, delivering unparalleled personalisation.
Emotion AI is likely to begin as an analytical tool, providing deeper insight into the user experience. However, virtual reality, voice assistants, autonomous vehicles and wearables are more widespread than ever before. New technologies demand new interfaces. Emotion AI can add a new dimension to these interfaces, and with it, an entirely new relationship between user and product.
If you could build with emotion, what would you create?
- Andrew Coleman (2008). A Dictionary of Psychology (3 ed.). Oxford University Press
- Quote from Daniel Kahneman (2015). Fast Company Blog.