Set in emotion

Functionality is not enough for today’s consumers. They want to be seduced by tactile, intuitive products that also make a personal statement. Oliver Bennett falls for emotional ergonomics

Similar in spirit to Sequam is the ‘human factors’ approach, as undertaken by product innovator Ideo, which follows a rigorous research process based on behavioural science in order to create products that resonate with personal identification. ‘Increasingly, people see through marketing,’ says Ideo UK chief executive officer Colin Burns. ‘Thus, desirability is expected to come through the product itself; the experience of using it, its look and feel.’

Burns elaborates, explaining that a good product should fulfill three criteria: it should be ‘delightful, usable and useful’; it should be intuitive to use; and it must fit into our own personal ‘narrative’. It’s a sophisticated and, at times, rather abstract debate that takes cues from the emotional linguistics associated with branding.

The ’emotional’ approach has altered the design discourse. ‘Traditional industrial design is about functionality and usability,’ says Frank Nuovo, head of design at Nokia and now also the creative director of a new generation of high-end mobile phones for Vertu. ‘But take cars: if they were only about technology, then they’d all look the same.’

Somehow, designers have to create difference by designing spirit and aura into their products. ‘It’s about working on the emotional factors that create desire,’ adds Nuovo. ‘The technology may enable a product to get out there, but it doesn’t turn it into an object of desire. It’s the emotional response from the consumer that makes them choose something.’ The process involves a heady and complex stew of brand, look, feel and user experience.

Dale Russell, a senior consultant for Samsung Design Europe, has also observed the emotional presentation of a product become one of the most important factors. ‘The relationship between the human and the product is the most important factor,’ she says. ‘The priorities of product design have changed, taking this into account.’ Any new product, therefore, has to be overseen from the user’s perspective, constantly referring back to how it affects their emotional experience.

Russell believes that the new methodology, which involves a lot of research and team effort, is currently the best model for good design. ‘It’s corny, but the word “holistic” comes to mind,’ she says. ‘It’s a more integrated approach and many design groups have changed. For instance, I’m there at the beginning of the product at the pre-brief stage, and then follow it right through, looking at all aspects including finishing, colour and detail.’ A key aspect of any product’s emotional ergonomics is how it allows for intuition. It’s what Russell calls a ‘subliminal choreography’, a tacit bond between a user and their product. That is the grail in the touchy-feely noughties: it’s all about feelings.

Frank Nuovo will be giving a talk at the Design Museum on Monday 15 December

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