Luckily, you don’t always need a psychology degree to predict and understand human behaviour — no matter how irrational it may often be. Being a consumer of your own product, or eating your own dog food, is a big step towards understanding how people feel about what you’ve created. Taking the time to listen to feedback, conduct testing with users, asking them how they feel — these too are great ways of getting started.
Being remarkable, as Seth Godin talks about, is the aim of the game. Not just in terms of the product itself, but in terms of how people react to it.
There are lots of remarkable companies creating remarkable user experiences out there. Studying them closely to gain an understanding of why what they’re doing is working is vital, but you can’t just copy their strategy and expect it to work. The strongest emotional reactions and the most memorable experiences, as we’ll look at a little later, are ones which don’t occur every day. Users will consistently take for granted that which they have experienced many times before.
Study human nature and figure out what’s going to make people tick. The divide between indifference and fanaticism is often a very small one. Look at what you’re doing and ask yourself if you could put in 20% more work and get 80% more results. Adding the large handle to the top of the iMac wasn’t a huge amount of extra effort, but the impact which it had on people was significant. It was clever, intuitive and memorable. People don’t just appreciate those things in the short run. Years later, they write books about them.
Why Adobe Infuriate Me
As an interactive designer, I spend a large portion of my time (actually, a large portion of my life) using Adobe products. At the time of writing, a copy of Adobe Photoshop will set you back as much as a basic computer. The cost of the full Creative Suite of applications is equivalent to a decidedly above-average used car. When you spend that sort of money on computer software, it comes with certain expectations.
I had to take out a loan to afford my first copy of Adobe Creative Suite. I was starting up a web design business at the time, and despite the prevalence of pirate copies of the software, I decided that a fully licensed version was the only sensible way forward if I was going to be making a living from it. (This turned out to be a good decision, as I received a software audit from the Business Software Alliance just two months later, demanding proof of purchase receipts for all my applications. Not fun.) So I parted with a wad of close to a thousand British Pounds, which I would be paying off for a substantial amount of time, and placed my order.
You can’t really tell what you’re going to get when you order Adobe’s Creative Suite online. There are just pictures of a large product box — a bit like what Microsoft Windows used to ship in — and not much else. I’m not really sure what I expected, in hindsight. I didn’t expect a choir of musical mice to spring out of the box and sing my license key to me in perfect harmony, but I expected a well made set of packaging containing both my software and some extensive documentation. Perhaps also some user stories and profiles of Adobe professional users, talking about how they used the software provided to enhance their magnificent careers. Maybe a discount code for future Adobe purchases. The possibilities were almost unlimited.
Unfortunately, none of my expectations came to fruition. When it arrived, the outer packaging was made from cheap, recycled cardboard, and inside was nothing more than a standard plastic DVD case with two disks. One with the software, and another with some sort of useless basic tutorial files. As if the primary target audience for this software is people who have never used it before. On the back of the DVD case was a very small sticker with my license key printed on it.
I just spent close to a thousand pounds on a sticker.
Of course that’s not entirely accurate — but that’s how it made me feel. It made me feel cheated and angry at having been forced to give my money to a company which clearly cared so very little about its customers. Adobe have proven over the years that they have little-to-no regard whatsoever for how their customers feel. This isn’t just proved by the packaging which they ship their (extortionately priced) software in — but also by the software itself. Adobe’s Creative Suite applications haven’t evolved much over the years beyond becoming more bloated and introducing gimmick features which aren’t particularly useful to anyone. The Mac version of the software is littered with problems as a result of it being ported carelessly over from the PC — an unforgivable feat, given the number of creatives (and therefor the size of the target market) who work on Macs. As a result, every time a savvy software house creates an alternative to Adobe software, people flock to it rather quickly. How many Mac users do you know who still use Dreamweaver?
Adobe’s products certainly evoke emotions from me, but they aren’t designed. They are the consequences of lack of design and they are exclusively negative. Sooner or later Adobe will have to catch up, or they will be overtaken. Adding a new version number to the box each year and marking up the price by 10% will not be sustainable for much longer.
Getting it Done
Designing Emotion isn’t hard, you just have to want to do it. I believe anyone can look at their own business or product critically and find an answer to the question “How could this be more fun?” or “What can I do with this to make my users smile?”
People, colleagues, bosses, may shout you down along the way. But Designing Emotion gets results, and results - as we’ll look at in the subsequent pages – often speak louder than words.