Emotional UX

Image of woman tying shoes

When software first came into the world, technological limitations made for a very low “experience” bar. Software either could do what you needed it to do, or it couldn’t. If it required a fifty page manual to explain how to calculate the product of two numbers, then that’s just how it was.

With the dawn of the Macintosh, “usability” slowly came into vogue and the experience bar was raised. Nowadays it’s expected that software actually be easy to use. Gone are the fifty page manuals, in are self-describing interfaces with strategically designed virtual affordances.

We are on the verge of an era where the software experience bar will be raised even higher. No longer should we only be concerned with how easy it is to do something, but with how a user should feel while they are doing it.

I recently worked at a company called Koko FitClub. Koko is a fitness center franchise, but one unlike any other. It was designed for people who hate the traditional gym experience. Part of that “traditional gym experience” is the aggressive personal trainer who pushes you out of your comfort zone, harasses you to show up on a fixed schedule, and berates you for imperfect performance. Koko’s philosophy is adamantly opposed to all this. Its attitude is that every step you take toward fitness – even if it’s only one workout a week – is a positive step toward better health, and should be celebrated.

This philosophy went beyond the in-club experience and marketing materials. It went right down into the functionality of the member web site. We had enormous volumes of member data to work with, but what we didn’t present to the user was just as important as what we did. The site never commented on how long it had been since your last visit. It never challenged you to visit more often or lift more weight than your fellow members. And it never graphically displayed how much further you had to go on your predefined program before moving onto the next one. We had the technological capability to do all of those things, but we very intentionally chose not to.

Every visual element and interaction on the site was designed to give you a feeling of “I’m doing OK, and if I do more, it’s reason to celebrate”. This type of emotion-based design goes beyond usability. Usability is binary – something is either easy or it isn’t. Emotion is not – it’s very brand-specific. The ideal emotional design for Koko would not be the correct one for a CrossFit “box” or a Gold’s Gym.

When designing a website or an app, remember to consider how a feature will make someone feel before deciding if it belongs in your design. Your brand isn’t just reflected in your logo or visual design. It goes all the way down to the widgets on a screen.