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Designing for a bad experience

As a User Experience Designer, emotion plays a key role in my work. And while the majority of experience design is about the actual experience as it happens, we also have to be aware of context. In other words, why is this experience happening? And specifically – is there an emotional aspect I need to take into account?

Emotions spring to life, negative and positive. These then drive behaviours, expectations, actions, feelings and even your physical state of being. All these things have an influence and an impact, giving context to everything that happens next.

So when crafting experiences, there is an element of accepting that some emotions are negative. It’s in no way about focusing on the negative – far from it, really. The ultimate goal is to ensure you design to help mitigate or deal with what could be less positive feelings.

Here’s an example. If your audience is completing a process following an incident, accident or trauma then being sensitive to their situation is essential.

If you are providing a smartphone application to allow clients to capture accident details, then this demands you build to the situation. At best your user will be frustrated, perhaps angry. At worst they are facing financial or physical pain. Failing to make your interactions, steps and notifications clear and easily understood will simply aggravate a situation.

Conversely, by providing no barriers to completing the task and awareness of how the application will be used, you can create some sense of comfort that a claims process will proceed smoothly.

Of course, creating a poor user experience can also make a bad situation worse.

For example, completing online processes to pay fines, overdue accounts and unexpected bills should be aligned with likely scenarios. In many cases the need for a payment and related enquiries are driven by receiving a physical statement or record. If this is not taken into context, then maybe no one is providing crafted transitions between the physical and electronic, nor considering likely reactions to something unwelcome.

Perhaps the relationship between the two – the printed fine and online payment gateway – are vague and details may differ. With no clear point of reference, how can the process be completed? Emotions will become charged.

Feelings and emotion are just an element of User Experience Design, but they are as important as any other. Combined with other aspects of a situation, they give context.

So if you are faced with designing an experience which is influenced by negative emotions, what can you do? Here are some tips: 

  • Establish a reference point to their experience. If someone wants to make a complaint, give clear beacons as to how to let them.
  • Don’t relegate their experience to being a secondary one. In this age of social connectedness, you can’t afford to side line less than positive experiences, even if you didn’t drive them.
  • Use an appropriate channel. If you can’t manage your Twitter presence, then don’t centre the user experience there.
  • Negatives happen – you’re just dealing with the impact. Many, if not all, negative drivers are not in your control or are simply the source of your audience. For example, emergency services don’t create the situation they encounter, but must deal with what happens next.
  • It’s all connected. Try to tailor experiences from end-to-end. For example if you can adjust a form to a given scenario, then do it. When submitting a health claim for a doctor’s appointment, a simple acknowledgement is fine. When doing the same for an upcoming major operation, it’s appropriate to provide a more comprehensive experience. Maybe steps to support, tips or helpful references. Again – the emotional quota will most likely be high in this scenario.
  • If it’s appropriate, take into account physical factors. Physical situations can increase our adrenalin and decrease our accuracy. Maybe that input field or submit button should be clearer and bigger?
  • Remain with your core design principles. Build for the device, goals and need.

In many cases emotional drivers won’t play a significant part in an experience, but where they do you need to factor in their impact.

Always consider context, as ultimately, context is king.

Posted by: Brian Lyall, Senior Web Strategist | 18 February 2014

Tags: UX, User Experience

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