The Emotional Design Checklist

A Case Study in Coffee

10 November 2015

A product can excel in areas of performance, compliance, and usability, and yet people still may not like it. Theories of Emotional Design argue that there are a number of factors which determine whether an individual will love or hate a product, including appearance, user experience, and emotions evoked by the product. These theories help to explain why a customer may choose to spend more on a premium brand when it performs to the same level as a generic brand.

Whether you're a designer, manufacturer or retailer, knowing and controlling the emotional impact your product has on the user can make a difference. Assessment of emotional design requires a multidisciplinary approach combining human factors, foreseeable use and product performance. The following guidelines, illustrate how to consider emotional design qualities, using an espresso cooker as an example.

  • Understand how the physical design is perceived
    Certain elements of a design may provoke an emotional reaction, positive or negative, from users. This relates to every sensory impact a product has; look, feel, sound, even smell. With the espresso cooker, its design is visually appealing, sturdy and light to hold, and the parts come together easily. The product is perceived to be well designed. 
  • Instructions are part of the product
    Interaction with a product extends to the instructions included. Good instructions should be easy to read, straightforward and provide troubleshooting tips.  For example, an espresso cooker may include instructions to make and discard three pots of coffee before daily use. If these instructions are not easy to find, the step may be overlooked and the product may not function as intended. The user ultimately becomes frustrated, leaving them with a negative impression of the product. When developing instructions for your product, it's important to consider that some users may avoid reading instructions, so it's valuable to incorporate instruction into the physical design, when possible.
  • Know how the user will interact with the product
    When designing a product, it is important to take into consideration how the consumer will use the product in addition to its intended use.  All anyone wants from an espresso cooker is for it to easily make great tasting coffee. "Easily" covers a pretty wide range of factors: the amount of coffee and water needed, favourable temperature, how to tell when the coffee is finished; ease of cleaning the product, and whether the pot stains over time. Considering these variables when designing your product allows you to identify what is important to the customer and incorporate that into your design.  This also provides a foundation for testing and consumer research to determine how well your product performs.
  • Research how well the product meets user needs
    Once you know what characteristics are significant to the customer, you can determine whether your product delivers them. We have already established the importance of an easy to use espresso cooker. One way to measure the level of difficulty of assembling and operating an espresso cooker would be to conduct a consumer study where users are only provided with a new product and the instructions included in the box. Ease of use could then be compared to other coffee making products to determine how it measures against other brands.  Without a study like this, there may be no way to determine whether a step in the process has gone wrong or discovering whether the product or a component is faulty. Outside of the safety element of this issue, this makes for an unreliable product and an unhappy customer.
  • What are the intangible elements of the product
    There is a cognitive element of emotional design. Consumers may see a product as clean, classic and cool and desire their own. This mythology of a product is difficult for a brand to cultivate but incredibly powerful driver for the consumer. We aspire to own products which we find appealing, but which also reflect the things we value. With an espresso cooker, a user hopes that it will: 1) make the excellent coffee and 2) allow them to master the art of cooking espresso.

Most companies have a vision for their brand and how they want it to be perceived by consumers, but how can you know if you've hit the mark? What elements of the product do you need to change to ensure your product has a positive emotional impact on the customer?

Rachel joined Intertek’s Product Intelligence group in 2014. With qualifications in both Product Design & Bioengineering, Rachel offers valuable insight into how a consumer product is designed, as well as how a consumer will interact with it. During her studies in Product Design at the Dublin Institute of technology, Rachel was awarded the Most Innovative Concept Award & the Enable Ireland Award for Assistive Technology Solution. Rachel received her MSc in Bioengineering from Trinity College, Dublin in 2013.