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Seductive Interaction Design: Are You Attractive?

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Stephen P. Anderson considers the ways in which feelings and emotions can influence perceived and actual usability.
This chapter is from the book

WHEN WE TALK ABOUT affect, we’re talking about feelings and emotions. In marketing, feelings are often reduced to “I feel positive about your brand.” Here, however, we consider the ways in which feelings and emotions can influence perceived and actual usability. Let’s revisit our button example, with a slight change:

Cognitively speaking, both of these are obviously buttons. Neither button is “wrong” as in our earlier example. However, research into attention, persuasion, choice, happiness, learning, and other similar topics suggests that the more attractive button is likely to be more usable by most people. To get an idea of where this perspective might come from, consider this comment on emotions from neurobiologist Antonio Damasio:

“Emotion is not a luxury: it is an expression of basic mechanisms of life regulation developed in evolution, and is indispensable for survival. It plays a critical role in virtually all aspects of learning, reasoning, and creativity. Somewhat surprisingly, it may play a role in the construction of consciousness.”*

That our emotions govern our thinking is a theme we’ll develop throughout this book.

In many design conversations, there is a belief that applications are made enjoyable because we make them easy to use and efficient. (Whether it’s stated or not, these conversations value the role of aesthetics in cognition.) However, when we talk about how emotions influence interactions, it’s closer to the truth to say things that are enjoyable will be perceived as easy to use and efficient. Allow me to explain.

Since the effects of our emotions may be one step removed from actual use, let’s consider the things emotion (or affect) influences directly.

You remind me of…

Product personality influences our perceptions. Think about how quickly we form expectations about someone simply based on how they dress or present themselves. This is something the automobile industry has known for years, as they spend money to create products that express a specific personality that customers might identify with. Why does a Dodge Ram seem more durable? What makes a Mini Cooper seem zippy and fun? While there are certainly performance features to support these mental claims, we can also see these attributes expressed in each car’s form.

Similarly, the user interface design decisions we make affect the perceived personality of our applications. In the examples below, which window is friendlier? Which one looks more professional?

To be clear, it’s not that either of them is necessarily right or wrong. Each user interface has a distinct personality appropriate for the content, the context, and the audience. The example on the left has the “pro” look and its sophistication may actually appeal to that intended audience. The example on the right was a simple widget designed to track points in a rewards program. So, in each case, the personality is tailored to the intended purpose.

Products have a personality. Why should we care? Consider this:

  • People identify with (or avoid) certain personalities.
  • Trust is related to personality.
  • Perception and expectations are linked with personality.
  • Consumers choose products that are an extension of themselves.
  • We treat sufficiently advanced technology as though it were human.

By making intentional, conscious decisions about the personality of your product, you can shape positive or negative affect responses. Take a look at Sony and how they applied this knowledge in the Sony AIBO. Let’s consider why they made this robot resemble a puppy (above).

Here, you have a robotic device that isn’t perfect. It won’t understand most of what you say. It may or may not follow the commands it does understand. And it doesn’t really do all that much.

If this robot was an adult butler that responded to only half our requests and frequently did something other than what we asked, we’d consider it broken and useless. But as a puppy, we find its behaviors “cute.” Puppies aren’t known for following directions. And when the robot puppy does succeed, we are delighted. “Look, it rolled over!” What a great way to enter the robotics market.

Consider what kind of personality you’re creating with your application, and what expectations that personality brings with it.

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