In order to understand and apply emotions to the practice of design, it’s necessary to understand what differentiates different types of emotions, and the effect of emotions on… the processing of information. For many artists and designers out there, much of this knowledge is intuitive. They ‘just know’ how to subtly balance all the elements of art, design and interaction to create emotional states that capture attention and encourage loyalty.
Emotion is important to design because virtually all the decisions we make are made because of either how we feel, or how we anticipate we’ll feel. Recent research in neuroscience has shown that without the feedback provided by our emotions, we have difficulty making even simple decisions, like what clothes to wear in the morning. (Damasio 1995)
The effects of emotion directly influence much of the way we perceive our everyday lives, affecting how categorize information, make decisions, evaluate risks and solve problems. (Isen 1999) Within emotional research literature, the term used for the way that emotions affect cognition is “emotional affect“. Emotional affect is the term for emotional reactions that have a high probability of producing changes in awareness, facial expression, body language, physiological function, and behaviour. These reactions change the way we process information and perform tasks, depending on whether the conditions are perceived as positive (e.g., supportive, caring,) or negative (e.g., threatening, punishing). (Hayes-Roth et al 1997) Affect can be differentiated from cognition because it tends to influence motivation and arouse feelings, whereas cognition is concerned with facts. (Cacioppo and Petty 1989)
Donald Norman states that emotional affect is…
the general term for the judgmental system, whether conscious or unconscious. Emotion is the conscious experience of affect complete with attribution of its cause and identification of its object. A queasy, uneasy feeling you might experience, without knowing why, is affect. (Norman 2004 p11)
The close relationship between the emotional system and behaviour means that the body is prepared to respond to a variety of events. Anxiety promotes focus in the mind and a tense body that is ready to take action. Happiness and contentment promote increased flexibility in thinking and a relaxed body. (Norman 2004) In evolutionary terms, positive affect is linked with the tendency to approach and negative affect is linked with the tendency to avoid.
The influence of affect can be found in both individual and social situations. Emotional affect can alter thought processes, changing how events are perceived and interpreted. It can change how people interact with one another and it can also change how people interact with objects. This idea is especially applicable to the mobile technologies that are expanding throughout the globe. The wide adoption of these technologies means that new and inexperienced users are entering into the market every day. Improving their experiences from the very first interaction has powerful implications for brand loyalty.
Emotional affect is an important consideration for interactive products, especially those that are used in stressful or dangerous situations. In almost all instances, emotional affect guides cognition in directions that are congruent with the affect. (Cafferata and Tybout 1989) In advertising for example, when prior knowledge and the motivation to deliberate the benefits of a product or service are low, people are more likely to rely on their unconscious affective responses to make a choice. When prior knowledge and motivation to deliberate are high (e.g. making a large investment), people are more likely to rely on their knowledge and conscious appraisals and ignore unconscious affective cues. (Cafferata and Tybout 1989)
The same is true for interface design. When knowledge of a device or application is low, as with novices, people will tend to rely more heavily on their affective responses to interface elements to make choices. Once knowledge is gained, users rely more on their cognitive appraisals to make choices. These choices can influence how a user navigates through an application and how quickly they accomplish their goals.
Affective states influence ongoing appraisals of information and experience. This influence is much more apparent when the information that is appraised is ambiguous in nature. (see below) The influence of affect on information that already has a strong positive or negative nature is much smaller. (Isen 1999)
Affective states can also raise or lower the amount of motivation people are willing to invest by changing the level of physiological arousal or anxiety. They also influence cognition because people tend to remember things that occurred when they were in a similar state of arousal/value more readily. (Cacioppo, 1989)
This has powerful implications for the design of products targeted at different groups. Novices will be more persuaded by information that is affect inducing, while those with more knowledge may tend to ignore or even disdain affective cues. Either way, affect can be motivating because it interacts with the user’s existing state.