Emotional Design: An Approach to Sustainability

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Macintosh in 1984, Source: Unsplashed.com

This image takes us back to 1984 when Macintosh said hello for the first time. It was graphic interface that saw a turning point however the way we see it, it is a great example of emotional design. Was there a dire need for the Macintosh to say hello? The answer would be no, however as we agree that humans are social animals, it was a rather an important breakthrough. Since then human computer interaction was seen as an extension of human emotions and not merely as wires and machines. 

When we compare designers with the rest of the corporate world, what is that one thing that differentiates them? The word we are looking for would be empathy. The ability to think through emotions is what sets designers aside. This in itself is a quality that many good designers consciously explore in their designs, and has resulted in one of the finest human made products. A good design is also one which seamlessly becomes an indistinguishable part of your life aligning perfectly with the same values, ethos and outlooks as the individual.

What is Emotional Design?

Emotional Design targets the emotive quality of a product to increase the longevity of it. Don Norman has summed up the holistic experience of a product into three levels namely behavioural, visceral and reflective. These levels together be the judge of the experience a product generates. Hence, for emotional design to work, the understanding of these three stages also becomes very important. 

To simplify the stages, let us take an example of a fitness band.

Comic strip
Illustrated by Astha Avinash

What is Emotionally Durable Design?

Emotionally durable design is increasing the resource productivity and reducing waste by elongating the product life span. The word sustainability has been used almost far too often in the world nowadays. But where do we draw the line and how do we know that this is not greenwashing. In fact the most sustainable product would be the concept of no products. 

However, this may not be in congruence to the increasing human needs and the capitalist market. This is where the approach of emotionally durable design comes in play. 

This approach, focuses on the cause rather than the symptoms. A person may want to make a product made of sustainable materials, but what is the point if the product is not able to connect with the user on an emotive level. The product will soon be “not needed” and be discarded. The difference between like and love comes from the overall experience of the product. Hence, when a product is designed to be loved it sustains longer. 


For example: A PET bottle designed by VOSS, is widely purchased for its look and feel, offering the common consumer an experience of finesse and quality. Compare it to the PET Bisleri bottle at the local crossroad which is crushed and thrown away by most of us. Emotive design lends Voss the prowess to build a niche brand.  

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Source: https://vosswater.com

What is the difference between Emotional design and Emotionally durable design?

These terms may not be mutually exclusive of one another. They indeed are subsets of one another. Emotional design increases the longevity of a product you use.

Example we see in daily life that use this?

The greatest example of emotional design would be of a Tamagotchi. It is a toy developed by a Japanese toy company called Bandai and was a very popular toy in Japan in the 1990s. This toy is small video game in the shape of an egg. The egg gives you a pet, and you have to take care of it in order for It to grow. By not taking care of it, the pet will die and the toy will no longer be of any use. This concept is derived out of involving human emotions into the process of design. 

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Tamagotchi by Bandai, Japan

Many campaigns use emotional design to grab the attention of the users. VOSS bottled water uses its marketing rather intelligently. They have aced the visceral level by using an iconic form for their bottles. It has become so popular that people buy the water more for the bottle than the water itself. However, they have also portrayed through their campaigns that they care about what’s on the inside, and have highlighted the health benefits of VOSS water. This targets the behaviour and reflective levels. 

How to incorporate Emotional Design while designing a product?

There might not be a single objective answer to this. However, while designing there can be a few points to always keep in mind. These can be the usability , functionality and reliability aspect. 

Emotional design may or may not just be a part of the product design itself, but also the way it is marketed, advertised and also projected to the outside world. For example: When you buy an apple product, you buy into a community, you are part of a movement. However when you buy a Microsoft computer you buy it because of its technical aspects and not because the laptop means something more than it is. 

There may not be an algorithm to make “good design,” but the approach one chooses, surely shapes the end result. Design and intuition are parallel planes. And with intuition, emotions flow in. 

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