The Emotions Framework — Building products for human feelings

This framework I built over the past few months helped me better understand the role of emotions in product research, cut through the noise of designing complex user experiences, achieve higher metrics and onboard my teams in the same direction. I hope you’ll find it useful as well 🙂

The Environment: Source of Emotions & Actions 🐯

I see a tiger, I feel afraid, I run or fight — I see an apple, I feel hungriness or satiety, I eat it or leave it

The brain is our survival computer, always seeking ways to minimize threats and maximize rewards, switching our emotions on and off according to our environment and our memories, incentivizing our actions and behaviors.

The environment-emotion-action flow (internal stimuli are an other source of emotions)

Our binary threat-reward system is the essence of our decisions in all aspects of our life: dating, social relations, business, politics, management, food, marketing, shopping, sports, games, etc.

Influencing people’s emotions by changing their environment could be one of the most effective way to incentivize their actions and behaviors.

Designing 2D Products Like 3D Environments 📐

Try to picture yourself navigating your app in 3D — Vredeman de Vries

Let’s try to think of an app or website like a house — a single 3D space (the app) divided into different rooms (tabs) where visitors (users) look for specific objects or tools (features) to feel different emotions.

In a bedroom you expect a bed, where you can feel rested. In a living room you expect a TV, so you can feel entertained.

Like when one designs a house, a product maker has to figure out how to build a robust app architecture deciding which features to add where.

Anytime you’re developing something new for an end-user facing product,
Most users will ask you: “Is it easy to use?”
Most designers will ask you: “Does it look good?”
Most entrepreneurs will ask you: “What problem does it solve?”

Personally, I’d also add: “What do you want your users to feel?”

Knowing which emotions you want to spark with each section of your app is probably the best north star you will ever find. Why?

Because tech, features and UIs will constantly change, they are flows in your very long product discovery journey. But the human palette of emotions will never change, at least at the scale of our lifetime.

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’” — Jeff Bezos

Including Emotions in Your Product Research 🧩

So how can you use the emotions framework during your product discovery process or while sketching your app screens?

Any product has to match a specific need, have the right set of features/UI, trigger engaging emotions

Once you’ve clearly defined who your user is, you should ask yourself for every screen of your app, from the home tab to the settings, these 3 questions in the following order:

  1. What is my user’s most critical need on this specific page?
    My user needs to check their account balance”
    “My user needs to pay for the sneakers they added to their cart”
  2. What emotions do I want my user to feel now?
    On this page, I want my user to feel safe, secure and in control”
    “On this page, I want my user to feel excited and have some FOMO”
  3. Finally, what’s the best combo of features/UI to help my user satisfy their needs and trigger the feelings I’m looking for?
    Even if it looks nice, we shouldn’t add any icon animations on the account balance page because that would diminish the user’s feeling of control”
    “Let’s show that the shoes will arrive tomorrow but that only 2 pairs are left”

To help you with that exercise I created an easy-to-use AirTable template with pre-filled options listing user types, app screens and hundreds of emotions!

The Junto Emotion Wheel — Emotions linked to threats are at the top, emotions linked to rewards are below

We never been taught in school to observe and identify our emotions, that’s why tools like The Junto Emotion Wheel are very convenient to talk about our feelings and find specific emotions we want to spark in our products.

If people are always feeling something at any moment of their day, from boredom to tranquility, anxiety to excitement, we can conclude that:

Any product is an interface between two emotions.

By using the emotions framework to know from where your users come emotionally and where you want to bring them with their next emotion, you just made your product discovery process much easier.

The Emotions Framework in Action 🎯

At Sidekick, we used this methodology to redesign our application from scratch and I can’t wait to see the results once it’s in our users’ hands!

Sidekick’s mission is to help leaders in organizations become world class managers through executive coaching. Our clients range from Facebook to Procore to BNP Paribas. If you want to learn more about the impact coaching can have on your employees’ happiness and retention, visit sidekick-hq.com

Here’s the presentation I used to convince the team that we probably needed a new mobile app architecture, shortly after I joined the company a month ago. We had to move fast. I recommend a longer observation period for any new PM.

Slide 1. Title; Slide 2. The app 3 tabs/features; Slide 3. Emotions we want to trigger; Slide 4. New tabs/features

Be Authentic 🧸

As a final note, a product always needs to look authentic for the user to generate strong emotions and avoid Uncanny Valley sentiment. That’s why for instance apps for teens made by old people usually feel so awkward.

Thanks to Rahul Vohra, Debra Raybold, Victor Nourrissat, Max Coutte, Rhai 🐱, balthazar de Lavergn, Kyle Hall for taking the time to review this article.

Co-Founder at Aria.fm — Part-Time Director at The Family — jswallez.com