THE BLOG

"It's All Feelings, Baby!" - How Is This Reflected In Design?

11/25/2013 02:49 am ET | Updated Jan 24, 2014

Most decisions are made flying by the seat of our pants, even the important and life changing ones. So why do we develop products and services, as if people always behave rationally? Classic economics say we are rational creatures, behavioral economics tells us that we are not, so are designers continuing to design for outdated, incorrect rational paradigms?

Just try asking fifteen professional middle class Californians how they made the most important decision in their life, such as whom they married, what occupation they selected and what names they gave their children and none of them will have rational explanations for their actions. One of them was an Actuary, which is probably one of the most analytical professions there is, and yet, she actually started her journey by following a friend to a statistics course on the spur of the moment.

We know that emotions are important for one's decision-making ability as they help us to navigate our values, beliefs and attitude, thus affecting our behavior. Emotionally undeveloped people become paralyzed and simply cannot decide on the simplest things.

This emotional decision-making is even more prevalent in our relatively low cost, low-consequence day-to-day purchases. When the first iPod came out, my friend, BMW designer, John Cook, was the first to get one. All of the other designers stood around in awe and drooled over the sleek design and novel interface.

After seeing John's iPod, I absolutely had to have one, but had to search for a reason to purchase one. Then, I discovered that the iPod could be used as a portable backup drive for my laptop and so, I went out and bought the most expensive backup drive on the market.

The iPod's interface was hailed as intuitive and easy to use, something I completely failed to experience. However, studies of ATM machines have shown that beautiful products are perceived to work better than ugly products with identical interface. The iPod was certainly beautiful and therefore must be easy to use. So, how could I stand there and proclaim that the interface sucked? After all, it was an Apple product. Heresy!

At the end of the day however, it did not really matter how it worked, since I only listened to my three thousand downloaded songs one percent of the time. It was only when a new product came out, connecting the iPod with my car radio, that I actually enjoyed two hours of custom arranged daily commuter music on my journey to and from the office. Whatever our reasons, within weeks everyone in the design studio had a new iPod, showing that creative people are really not that different.

Recent studies at Hanyang University show that when asked to evaluate new business opportunities captured in early concepts, the look of the concept most influenced people's preferences. So, it was not alignment with abstract corporate strategy, nor the rational concepts ability to deliver on triple-bottom-line (social/human, environmental and viability) criteria. Beauty touches our emotions and reminds us of our humanity, as one who experiences a sunset will acknowledge.

Design, styling and aesthetics may not, after all, follow function; it could very well be the other way around. So when forming design stories, arguments and rationale, treating design as ad hoc beautification may not only do design a disservice and diminish the value of the offering, but has also been shown to effectually reduce revenue from design by twenty percent. So staying connected to ones emotional response would seem to be a profitable venture on many levels.