Reverse Emotional Engineering: 3 tactics for creating intuitive user experience

When you are creating a product (web, program or object) there are a lot of available methods for designing the human interaction and seamless experience of using it. But let’s be real. The vast majority of products in the world are just not all that enjoyable to use. In fact many are down right annoying! So what can you do in the act of creation that will set your product apart? That will make it so freaking amazing that word-of-mouth spreads like wild-fire and people are literally begging for more? That is something I call reverse emotional engineering, which means designing not from how you want someone to feel, but from how you do not want them to feel.

Weird? Crazy? Let me explain. There are many ways to approach designing for human interaction, but I have discovered one method in particular that leads to more obvious and less abstract solutions.

This technique centers around the elimination of three common emotional responses: Frustration, Confusion and Boredom. If at every moment of the consumer experience you can eliminate these experiences – you will have hundreds of millions of sale/consumers/users in a heartbeat – I will literally guarantee that. However, there are very few products in the world that actually achieve this and I have never used one that achieves it perfectly. Human beings are about as complex as they come! It is complicated and difficult to design something people want to use – accepting this idea is the first step! Certainly not as a means of discouragement; it is more of an inspiring challenge and a way of quantifiably evaluating your product.

So let’s get into the nitty-gritty here. Frustration, Confusion and Boredom encompass every type of less-than-positive experience that someone can have using your product (unless of course your product is somehow violent and/or life-threatening). This means, that by taking these three factors into account, even by their most general definition, you will end up with a product that will rock peoples’ worlds.


#1 Frustration
This is a road block. When someone gets frustrated even on a minuscule level, they are going to start looking for or thinking about getting “outta there.” We are dealing with a world of short attention spans and little tolerance for inconvenience. One way to alleviate frustrating moments is the development of super-specific use cases and the ability to master the “curse of knowledge.”

#2 Confusion
Confusion is almost always visual and very often language-based. Frustration is about information and mental models: how to release information, when to release and how much do people already intuitively understand. This is where “frame” and “flow” come into play. Guiding people through an experience, allowing them to discover (creating interest, intrigue and excitement) and consistent understanding (what you want me to do/when you want me to do it). When Confusion occurs, it often leads to “wrong action” on the part of the user. People rarely want to admit to being confused about something, so many times they will make a “best guess” until the frustration sets in and they give up. But, the fact that they had to fail more than once does not result in an ideal experience.

#3 Boredom
This is the theater! The powerful engagement! What makes life worth living!  The avoidance of it I mean. Boredom occurs when you let the engagement drop. If you leave people hanging, they will disengage almost immediately. Getting them back is then a monumental challenge. The best way to approach the elimination of boredom is to view your product like a story or a play that has a beginning, a middle and an end. Letting people feel like they are part of a narrative; there is a motivation, a goal and a reward.

Each one of these emotions can be explored in great detail and there are many solutions. But for now, just keep these three in your mind. Insert them into your understanding. This is a practice in empathy. Go forth and feel!