Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Your Product Design


Today's best products not only solve a clear pain point, but do so while understanding, eliciting, and amplifying the emotions of the consumer. The gold standard of this is Apple, whose products are not only useful, but delight us, surprise us, amaze us, and elicit incredible emotional responses. Yet designing such products is no easy task, requiring product designers to bring deep emotional intelligence into their product and product design process. I wanted to share some examples of products that do this well as well as techniques to bring such emotional intelligence into your own product design.

High EQ Product Experiences
Facebook's Sharing
Facebook just hit an incredible milestone with over 1 billion people on Facebook on a single day. This massive audience is using Facebook daily to connect and share with friends, family, colleagues, and more. Facebook was able to create such broad engagement through the core Facebook sharing and News Feed experience. The key to their success involved not only making the sharing process frictionless, but more importantly providing instant social gratification to the sharer. With the advent of mobile devices, it became easy to snap a photo from your device and easily share it within the Facebook app, which was a key enabler to their success. Yet the most important dimension was the introduction and iteration of incredibly simple social gestures that allow you to like and comment on posts, providing real-time and instant feedback to the sharer. This instant gratification results in a very visceral response from the sharer, encouraging them to continuously share more. Facebook has invested heavily in optimizing this feedback loop: reducing sharing friction, providing instant notifications across mobile/web/email, optimizing the news feed algorithm to drive engagement from your closest friends, over-indexing shares from infrequent sharers, and so much more.

Instagram's Photo Filters
Instagram similarly drove significant sharing in their community but through an entirely different approach. Instagram enabled you to easily take your every day photos and make them incredibly beautiful through the use of easily applied photo filters. Your photo went from the mundane to the share-worthy in seconds. Your photos stood out from the crowd, not only making your photos look good, but making you look good at the same time. Instagram them became the place to share beautiful things and a place where you sought out such beauty. This enabled it to quickly distinguish itself from every other place you could go to share. While the service has significantly broadened from these roots, it's these underpinnings that drove the growth of Instagram in it's infancy and it's unique proposition amongst it's users in an already fairly crowded social media space.

Slack's Watercooler
Leveraging emotional intelligence is certainly not just for consumer applications, but apply equally for well-designed professional applications. Slack is my favorite recent example of this. Sure it provides seamless real-time communication that reduces friction in getting in touch with individuals on your team as well as broadly sharing info with your entire team. But at the same time it's done so much more than that. It's brought the classic R&D team watercooler conversation right into Slack. Every team I know using slack has a channel like #random, #fun, #general, #etc where developers and others just sort of "hang out". They share interesting articles, talk about what's for lunch, find others for weekend plans, share personal anecdotes, and so much more. Slack encourages this and more through its support for aliases, emoticons, hilarious slack bots, and so much more. Are they all focused on driving team collaboration and productivity? Certainly not. But they are incredibly fun and help to make the experience far more delightful. And help folks enjoy their workday a little more and a little easier. All the while creating raving fans out of their users that are constantly telling everyone else on their team, "dude, you NEED to get on Slack".

LinkedIn's Who's Viewed Your Profile
Even LinkedIn, the professional network, elicits an incredible emotional response with it's who's viewed your profile feature, which shows you which members on the network have recently visited your LinkedIn profile. While there are always legitimate reasons that it might be helpful to check these out (potential employers, potential sales leads, etc), the #1 reason is and has always been: curiosity. It's one of the most retentive features on LinkedIn, since anytime you get a notification about someone recently viewing your profile, you can't help but go look and see who it is. And attempt to deduce why exactly they might be checking you out. LinkedIn was able to create such a feature given the professional nature of the network and introduced it early on, setting the right expectations with users on how it would work, and has seen continued success with it to this date.

Headspace's Guided Meditation
Headspace describes itself as a "gym membership for the mind" and is one of the best executed guided meditation apps I've used. They've done an incredible job of allowing anyone to take their first step into meditation in the comfort of their own home in less than 10 minutes a day, bringing the friction to trying meditation way down. But more importantly, talk about software designed specifically to elicit emotions: through meditation. The entire process seems simple and easy. The animated videos are a fun visual and auditory way to learn this new skill. And it's a great way to take a break from your day and practice mindfulness.

Bringing EQ To Your Products
Let's touch on a few techniques that you can leverage to bring emotional intelligence to your products as part of your product design process.

Develop Target Personas
One of the most important aspects of bringing emotional intelligence into your product design requires starting with investing heavily in persona development. Persona development goes well beyond traditional customer segmentation exercises by helping you build a complete profile of your target customer, including psychographic and behavioral factors. It helps you understand the why behind the pain points that customers are experiencing. It helps you understand personal goals of users in a very deep way. Only when product designers have a crisp and deep picture of their target customer as a full human being can they begin to design experiences that elicit emotions from their users. For details on how to go about this, check out my posts on both customer segmentation and persona development.

Design to Desired Emotions
Designers have developed strong skills over the years in designing experiences around scenarios and use cases, focusing beyond just the feature to the full workflow of the end user to create an experience optimized for the goal that user is trying to accomplish. While this significantly reduces the friction in experiences, you need to take it to the next level to manifest delightful experiences. The best way to do this is to add the desired emotions dimension to your design process. So instead of simply designing to a use case, also design to a desired emotion. Some companies have created overall desired emotions for the overall experience they are trying to create. At LinkedIn, Jeff Weiner talked significantly about making members feel "accomplished" across their LinkedIn experience. Similarly, Adam Nash at Wealthfront talks about "empowerment" being a critical part of both their brand and client experience, making individual investors feel as if they are empowered to have access to all the capabilities leveraged by the richest and most sophisticated investors. When you pick such desired emotions for experiences, you can then review experiences through the lens of whether they are in fact likely to elicit such emotions from the target persona.

Speak to Your User Authentically
When software was first developed, you could tell very explicitly that you were interacted with a machine. The cryptic blue-screen-of-death was a classic example from yesteryear of how poor software interfaces simply confused their users. While we've come a long ways since then, I still find that such old habits die hard, especially when it comes to the way we speak to our users in our product designs. It's critical to remember that you're speaking to another human. And our language, style, copy, and tone should appeal to the way any human would want to be engaged with by another. It's important then to establish the tone for your copy based on your target person and desired emotions and consistently apply it throughout your experiences. I avoid "lorem ipsums" in designs so as to always be designing the interface as well as the copy together instead of waiting until the last minute to iterate on the copy. And ideally establish style guidelines to make it far easier to ensure consistency.

Delight Through Attention to Detail
When folks think about delightful experiences, they often think of magical experiences like Siri, Google Now, etc that surprise us. But I think it's important to remember that delight is equally evidenced in the very little things you do for your user. The attention to detail in crafting every last bit of the customer experience can create incredible delight for your users. So I encourage you to sweat the details. The on-boarding, the error states, in-product education, the emails you send, and so much more. When you do, your users will feel it not because of each individual element, because of the sum of the entire experience has become delightful.
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