Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Design for Positive Emotional Benefits

The post I wrote last month about NineDesirable Emotional States has garnered more attention that I anticipated – and in response, I am getting the question of how an experience designer can leverage this information to improve their customer experience.   The original article explored the emotions, and did not connect the dots.   And so, this follow up:


Tranquility pertains to the status quo: a person feels happy (not merely contented) with their current situation, feeling everything to be acceptable (or even excellent) just as it is.

The most common way in which this emotion is leveraged is to destroy it, to cause a contented person to feel discontented and want something more.  This does not qualify as leveraging positive emotion: it is undermining positive emotion for the sake of restoring it – a sort of Munchausen-by-proxy approach to design, and it is ethically questionable.

Since the emotion pertains to a satisfactory status quo, one which is not motivation to change the way things are, the best way to leverage tranquility is to extend it: to design products for durability (a good will last a long time, or the benefits of a service will be long-lasting).  Where it is not possible to make a good everlasting or a service’s benefits will wane, assurance can be provided that the good will be replaced or the service will be repeated as necessary to maintain the status quo.


Confidence is a sense of power to be successful at doing something in the future.   A person may experience a feeling of confidence in their capabilities, even if they have no plan or reasonable expectation of using those capabilities.

To create confidence, customer experience must communicate the capabilities that the product will provide when it is employed.   Because you have this thing, you will be able to accomplish this goal … when you get around to it.

The desire for confidence is what leads consumers to amass a horde of unused products, so caution must be taken.  To stay on the sunny side of the street, ethically speaking, you must avoid creating or pandering to the desire for power that is highly unlikely to be used in the future.   To sell a product that will never be needed is still a “sale” but eventually leads to discontent when the customer recognizes the opportunity cost: the cost and effort expended for an unnecessary product could have been applied to one that would have created value.


Excitement is the anticipation of a positive outcome in the course of performing a task.   The key difference between confidence and excitement is that excitement pertains to actions that are taking place immediately or in the very near future, and that it is highly unsustainable: excitement fades quickly.

Creating excitement about a product in advance is similar to creating confidence – the chief difference being that the positive outcome does not depend on the capabilities of the customer himself.   It is the difference between promising “you will enjoy a tasty meal” and “you will have the ability to prepare a tasty meal” – the latter is confidence, the former excitement.

To create excitement in the course of action, a customer experience must be designed to provide a sense of positive progress.   The experience provides reassurance that the customer is doing the right thing and that a positive outcome will be achieved if he continues in his course of action.

The evanescence of excitement is worth mentioning, because it is a common mistake to attempt to generate excitement too far in advance of an experience.   The further in the future an event will occur, the less likely a person is to feel excited – and if you generate excitement too far in advance, it will sour and the person will instead feel disappointment that the positive outcome has not happened yet, and begin to doubt it ever will.


Relief is the emotional consequence of achieving a positive outcome in spite of doubt, which may be a proactive accomplishment but is more often merely the avoidance or mitigation of damage from an external threat.

The most obvious example of commercial solutions that deliver relief are medical care to alleviate pain or restore health after illness or injury.   Insurance products work in much the same way for financially damaging events.   It is possible to cause a person distress for the sake of providing relief afterward, but this is highly unethical.

For the sensation of relief to be genuine, the distress must be genuine (relief from psychological distress is also relief, but it can be difficult to assess and the subject may not recognize the value of the solution).  Moreover, the restoration or alleviation must also be genuine – a “fake cure” may sell on hope, but will not re-sell unless it delivers genuine relief.


Satisfaction pertains to philosophical fitness rather than the functional outcome of undertaking an action.  It is a sense of justice, that the outcome was “right” regardless of whether the outcome is positive or negative. Satisfaction can be difficult to deliver because it requires understanding and meeting expectations, and not all customers have the same expectations.

While “customer satisfaction” is a term that is so widely used it has lost its precise meaning, the core quality of satisfaction is simple enough: the customer felt the service provider did what he was supposed to do and what it was “right” for him to do.  It can occur even when the outcome of a service experience was a functional failure: the customer is satisfied that the firm did its best, even though it did not ultimately succeed.

Conversely, satisfaction may not occur when a service experience is successful, but the customer feels that the firm did something wrong or unethical in their process.    This is the reason that the public turns against brands that are involved in scandals, even if their products are perfectly satisfactory in meeting their functional needs.


Amusement is the pleasure that arises from a positive or benign discovery, the self-satisfaction experienced by a person who has “solved” a mystery or untangled a dilemma.   It is an emotion that is short-lived and fades quickly.

Amusement is the emotional benefit of any new product – it is the natural reaction to any non-threatening novelty.   However, the amusement can generally be effected only once: the second time a person solves a puzzle is not as satisfactory as the first.  Once they have experienced it and know what to expect, there is no surprise that causes amusement.

While many products can cause amusement once, few can do it a second time without making significant changes to the product itself.   A person may enjoy a comedy performance once, but the second time the jokes aren’t as funny – the performer must come up with a new routine to re-create amusement.


Gratitude is an emotion felt by one person in regard to another who has rendered them some benefit.  It is an emotional component of any successful brand experience, but is particularly pronounced in personal services in which the customer meets the employee who provides service, or who is responsible for making a good they enjoy.

I cannot conceive of a product whose primary emotional benefit is gratitude, and there likely is not one because gratitude is a reaction to what someone else has done – and there is no action that merits gratitude in and of itself, as it is always attached to the consequences of the action.   So it will always be on the periphery of a brand experience.

While gratitude is generally felt toward individuals, it can also be attached to things through the process of anthropomorphization.   When people state that they “love” a physical good, or that they feel affection toward a company or brand, this is generally gratitude attaching itself to a non-human object or idea.


Admiration is a feeling of affiliation to an individual – though, again, it can be attached to an anthropomorphized object, company, or brand.   An individual has positive emotions toward another person and derives personal happiness in having a social connection to them.

The most common cause of admiration is quality: when a firm provides a product that impresses the customer, the customer admires the product or the firm for its competence.   It is not that the person admires the product, but admires the qualities that the product embodies or suggests about its maker.

Admiration can also be for non-functional reasons.  Quite often, a brand is admired for the conduct of the company that makes it – hence many firms make use of conspicuous charitable giving to align themselves with the moral sentiments of desired market segments, thus creating a “brand halo” that wins admiration regardless of the quality of their products.


Wonder occurs when an experience defies comprehension, but seems to pose no threat.   It is most often described in the context of something quite large, whether physically or conceptually, or something that has a supernatural quality about it that cannot quite be fathomed.

Products that are described by their customers and prospects as “miracles” instill a sense of wonder – however, wonder is short-lived.  When a person comes to understand something, becomes familiar and inured with it, the sense of wonder fades.   It is not an emotion that can be repeated or sustained with much success, and is generally strongest in the first encounter with a brand.


I’ve gone a bit further here in exploring how brand experiences can be aligned with the positive emotional sates – though my sense is that this has been a bit of a meander that has barely scratched the surface.   There are certainly other ways in which these emotions can be leveraged as part of experience design – and much is going to be specific to the product, the customer, and the particulars of their situation.

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