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Stop Thinking About Solutions and Products. Think About Emotions.

30 December 2014, by Marc

I’m sure you’ve read and heard already a lot about user experience, but have you also ever thought deeply about it? What we’re producing, developing or making are not just products, libraries or web sites, we’re triggering and selling emotions - all the time. Humans are driven by emotions, not by rational reasons.

Every time you browse through the web, look at websites, look at libraries for your next web project or even when you just watch TV, you’re doing always one thing:

You scan the potential feeling the object might give to you when you use or have it.

Feeling is pretty ambiguous here. A feeling is an emotion, a reaction on an action whereas the actual action can come from the outside (imagine a person punching in your face) or by a thought and conclusion you made in your brain (imagine the good feeling when you’re thinking about great situations you had in your life or when you get a new idea). We’re going to talk here about the latter, because selling products and solutions is all about placing a seed in people’s brain and let it grow. Reasons and conclusions are more likely to be accepted by you, when you have defined the reasons or came to a thought or conclusion yourself.

Imaging an ad in TV: A shiny beautiful coloured car drives around beautiful hills. What you’re doing subconsciously is first to recognize the beautiful nature in the background (which gives you already a good feeling) and second you imagine having this car. While doing this you check also the feeling you might have in and with this car. You ask yourself depending on your life situation:

You don’t think about the technical aspects at this point. Technical aspects of a product are not that big emotions. Only when first emotions left your body, you think about rational reasons, like:

And the very big surprise is here, even if all those rational reasons are considered as bad or not preferable, if the emotion it gives to you in the first place has a too great impact you’ll likely buy it, even when you actually can’t afford it. Think about smartphones for example. Many people have a incredible expensive one, which aren’t actually affordable by them. Same with cars. They rather want to work more each day instead of loosing the feeling having this car/smarthpone and with it all its emotions. It’s mostly based on an emotion triggered by being part of a community, showing that you are a bit better than others or showing who you want to be with this status symbol.

This process and decision making run always after the same pattern in your brain, only depending on your experiences. With physical products, with software, with virtual products (like assurances) and even with people. You check immediately the feeling you get when you first see a product and you imagine the product at your side, completely subconscious. When you get for example a bad feeling you start immediately to find the reasons why you got now a bad and not a good feeling. At this point the game is already quite over for the seller. You already got the famous “first impression”. Trying to change this first impression is hard work for your brain and leads often to no different result.

First Impression

So, we all know “the first impression is the most important one” in interpersonal dealings, but do we know what it actually means? The first impression is when you enter the stage for a presentation: Are you smiling, which clothes do you wear, which haircut do you have, which signals does your body send to the audience, which color does your first slide have, which notebook vendor do your have? All those questions are asked in your brain automatically. And the tricky part here is: the brain also automatically rates the answers depending on your experience. If blue is your favorite color, then you like slides with blue colors more and rate the overall presentation better. This is nothing you can suppress. It’s the life safer, integrated deep in your brain. When you learned as child that lions are dangerous then your brain is going to rate a lion in front of you automatically and instantly as dangerous and generates the appropriate fear emotion in your conscious mind.

This is the first impression. It’s not the first impression when the speaker has done the presentation and all is over. Between the very first impression and the end of the presentation your brain was heavily active examining the speaker, the first impression attached to the person is already laid down in a tray somewhere deep in your brain at the very beginning.

This is also the reason why people leave your website instantly, switch to another channel while your TV ad starts or don’t click on an advertising without even checking all of your points and selling arguments. The very first impression was not satisfactorily and they usually don’t have any reasons to investigate your product even further. You might get another chance, but don’t expect it to be happen.

What About Technical Decisions?

We as technical people and problem solver are more likely to try to chose libraries, companies and solutions based on objective rational reasons, because we have best practices and successful software patterns to follow. This is not actually true. Sure, we learned to act like this, but we really don’t do it that way in reality. If you have ten years of experiences and have no emotions in software development anymore then you might act like this, but the bigger part of people in this business don’t. It needs consequence training and try and failures to act like a machine, disabling and suppressing upcoming emotions. When you ever thought “Damn, this looks cool, but unfortunately doesn’t follow our guideline” then you might know what I mean. It’s hard to suppress that emotion. You find yourself searching for reasons or solution to still use it regardless the fact it actually doesn’t fit in the company’s philosophy/pattern xy/internal-policy.

User Experience Is Important

There are reasons why systems like Wordpress for example have such a huge impact on users and even developers. The reason why it’s so widely used is the first impression it creates: the administration interface appears to be clear and seems cool. It appears to be straightforward. After the second sight, you might see the sourcecode and think that this isn’t something you usually use or follows best practices or even latest standards. The first emotion has more weight than this. The overall user experience was “good” and the factor “technology” isn’t as important as the overall user experience for most users that don’t have yet learned over decades to disable their emotions. You want more likely to work harder and have more maintenance pain than accepting another not so-sexy system. This is the point.

Laravel, jQuery and co are not successful because they have best design patters and follow all principles you can image, but because they give you an emotion. The emotion that coding is fun and that you can build great websites even with not so much experience - This is user experience. And its all about that. If you plan to write a new library, then don’t forget that.

There’s No Such Thing “Good User Experience”

The term “User Experience” is misleading. When we’re talking about “good user experience” we don’t mean “good experience”, because there’s no such thing such as a “good” experience. A experience is a stream of information, it has no good or bad, but an experience has emotions attached, which can be good or bad. So, what we actual mean is “good user emotions”.

So, the “Experience” in UX is based on emotions. A emotion can be generated by having a beautiful layout, beautiful usability or a way the product feels in your hand or improves the life of a human. For technical people even good sourcecode can trigger good emotions, but those are usually not as important as more general emotions triggered by design or haptic perception. It is usually defined in little details, which your conscious mind doesn’t even recognize explicitly. It is also usually coupled with the first impression, but is not a must. User experience can became great during the first hours of using a product, but this is rather rare. User experience is the sum of all those emotions.

User Experience Is The Most Important. Period.

Emotions are so deeply integrated in our being that you can not place user experience on other places than first. The first impression is based on emotions, decision are driven by emotions (even if you want to be rational) and our brain rates anything by emotions. You would rather work harder to keep that emotion up and fixing issues with it than thinking about an alternative that has a worse user experience.

User experience is the sum of technical details, usability, design, communication and more. If one of these is good and another incredible bad, you won’t trigger a good overall emotion at the user side and there’ll be still much room to optimize. But, some areas have extremely more weight than other, depending on the experience of the user. Technical details are not as relevant as a good design and usability for most users. Don’t forget that.

The Average Human.

Reaching people means creating common emotions known by most humans. Good car advertising for example is advertising without data, without numbers. If the clip would start with “Only 100$/month” there’s no emotion, except maybe the rather little emotion “wow, I can afford it.”. A more important emotion is lifestyle: When the clip communicates subtle you have a better life and you are cool (within a community) without saying it loud - and of course you believe it - you will more likely to want it.

A more simple example are colors: It’s a known fact that most people get already a little (good) emotion by blue colors (and there are even concrete variants), because blue is usually attached to good emotions, like emotions you get when you are under a very blue sky or see the ocean with its clear blue color. Using those colors can already trigger little emotions which can grow with additional triggers as soon as the user hits your website and could end up in “good user experience”.

Such rules are the base of all marketing know how. If you don’t know how to trigger base emotions, you’ll rather have no success. But don’t be afraid of black magic here, there are no secret rules or stuff like that. It’s all about empathy. You have to step back and think about what would other think when they see and use something. If you have the ability to understand and share the feelings of another (called empathy) the chances are high to create good user experiences. Empathy is the most important and most basic tool you have as human to build lovely and awesome products. Take that feedback of emotions serious.

The average human has more emotions about good design and usability than about technical aspects. If you plan to sell a service for developers, don’t forget they are also humans like you and me. They like beautiful designed user interfaces, awesome easy to use libraries more than all of the most important designs patterns and principles. They want to - just as you - have fun in their life by using software, not being enslaved by technology.

Design Is More Important Than Code

When you’re creating a new product and you’re thinking “Wow, this is awesome, this will be great”, then it’s not enough to just convert your idea into code. You need a way to transport the message - the emotion - behind it to the user. That’s what marketing companies do that have understood how people make decisions and what people like.

A good design triggers general good emotions, a good usability happiness emotion and a good technical base brings safety emotion. In this priority.

So, by presenting naked numbers in ‘monospace’ font on a white background you won’t create emotions and hence nobody will be excited about your product. Understand the way you decide about purchases and explore your emotions while purchasing in reality (not driven by plain specifications), then you do also understand how other decide. We humans are pretty common in this area, you can build on that.

Products Need To Be Emotions.

Good products create every time you use it good emotions. Apple isn’t one of the biggest companies on the planet because they produce better technical hardware than others (although their technical data are pretty decent), but because they sell lifestyle, an emotion, a feeling. Your product needs to be an emotion. If it doesn’t trigger emotions, it leaves out many opportunities.

How About Us As Software Developer?

We developer tend to believe that users are only interested in naked data. When I have problem X I need solution Y. That might be true in some cases, but remember the guy browsing through the web while searching a solution for his problem: He will more likely open and stay on websites that triggers good emotion. A emotion like “This is serious” or “I can trust those guys” or simple “Cool, good overview, nice usability” could be enough to get this guy as new customer. It’s all about little details, we as user don’t actively scan. Emotions are everywhere. The actual price is then not as important as emotion he had in the first place.

We as software developer who have learned to deal with plain information to fit in design patterns, best practices and stuff are still people with emotions - that can be triggered. We should not forget about the possibility design and usability gives us to make even better products.

People in the front end community who create libraries invest more time in having a great website and even a shiny library logo than ever other programming community. If you compare libraries with good designs and usability with a library that is maybe technically perfect and cutting edge but doesn’t have eye-candy you will see that the first is almost always more or equal successful. This brings us to the conclusion that design and usability is more important than technical aspects for developers as well. This thinking from the front end community comes more and more to the php community as well. See Wordpress, Laravel and other visual beautiful products.

So What?

I only wanted to show you some little aspects about that topic, because this topic is actual extremely big and would fill dozens of books.

So, user experience with all its areas and its sub topic “First Impression” is the most important goal and all humans are driven by emotions. Good design and good usability have more weight than technology aspects. Even for software developer.

I believe many developer forgot that. If you don’t want to be a designer or if you think “I have no idea about designs” then talk with a designer. We are working with programming languages and machines that have no emotions - we shouldn’t become one. Please, make with your libraries and products good “user emotions” instead of only following stupid some patterns, principles or other rules and say at the end of the day “but it’s technical better”: nobody cares - in the first place.