Love, hate, innovate: design meets emotion

You’re looking at it all wrong, says my internal monologue, with a roll of its non-existent eyes. I’d been pondering what makes digital innovations successful. Why do some technologies seem to explode into common use, while others - despite their hype - fade away?

Hundreds of thousands of articles, LinkedIn posts and podcast episodes tell us everything’s now ever-changing, and that change is accelerating in our fast-paced world. But is it? Certainly, technology has thundered along for over 150 years, but can the same be said of all things?

There’s one factor in the rate of technological change that, as humans, is easy to overlook: our own rate of change has been slow. We are about the same as we were 10,000 years ago. We’re of broadly similar physicality and intelligence as when we invented pottery. We have roughly the same dietary requirements as when we first worked the land. Our behaviours are still motivated by the same broad interests and fears. We might know more and live longer, but the basics of ourselves are as they were several millennia ago.

If innovation is a force for change, the opposing force is the emotional and illogical nature of humans. So how might we best design interfaces between people and technology that meets the needs of our illogical and steadfast human motivations? In any given innovation, what opportunity is there? Not only to provide functionality, but to cater to our hopes, fears, love, pride, contempt and anticipation?


Love, my subconscious reminds me, is a powerful emotion that can significantly influence user behaviour. Innovations that evoke or tap into our positive emotions generally enjoy more adoption and use. Social media platforms have become such a massive part of people's lives not solely on their functionality, but because they evoke feelings of connection, validation, and community.

Similarly, love can also be the driving force behind product purchases. It’s often not possible or desirable to exhaust every possibility when looking to buy something, so to some extent we go with what the heart wants: with whichever one we feel an intangible connection.

Fear, trust, guilt, hope and expectations

Fear also strongly influences our behaviour and is a staple of modern marketing. From the fear of missing out to the fear of a cyberattack, marketers stimulate a sense of urgency that taps into our deepest anxieties. Fear also drives the adoption of new technologies, from the desire to keep pace with the competition, to an aversion to loss.

Evidence of humans’ emotional intelligence can be found all over the digital ecosystem. Both joy and anger provoke online reviews and social sharing. Trust and guilt influence whether we check out or abandon our carts. Our hope and expectations make us descend on ticket-booking systems when an artists’ tour goes on sale. The nostalgic treatment of digital photos in the style of old-time film cameras gives us a feeling of safety. All of these are characteristics that we don’t share with our technologies, but that strongly influence our relationships with them.

Innovations built on emotions

When conceiving, designing, and implementing digital-era experiences, it’s important to keep these emotions in mind. If not, users won’t adopt them. The success of a product or service depends on both its functional capabilities and the emotional connection a user can make with it. If an innovation invokes our positive emotions—love, hope, surprise and anticipation­—we’ll have a better experience with it than we would if our emotional responses were negative.

We drive our cars, but we also name them. We complete forms, but we also feel productive having done so. Understanding these emotional needs is essential when implementing and improving products and technology-led experiences. Our emotional needs shape our relationship with innovation of all kinds.

When I am speaking to users of a product, I often ask about their expectations and frustrations. They’ll almost always recount their experiences in emotional terms: what they love, what they hate, what made them feel special and what surprised them. These are the kinds of insights that will make or break an experience. It’s not enough for things to work: they also need to cater to the needs we have that are not purely functional.

Our experiences should be useable, and also loveable.

Mo is one of our Senior Strategists at Great State. If you'd like to learn more, get in touch.

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