At a conference presentation last week (see Neuromarketing in Montreal), I made the point that the most important frontier for neuromarketers may be product design. Why struggle to make ads more appealing when you could be making the product itself more appealing by tapping into the consumer’s true feelings and reactions? According to a WIRED.com report by Bryan Gardiner, it looks like frog design‘s Harmut Esslinger and other mainstream designers might concur.

For some time now, designers have intuitively understood that products can elicit some strong emotional responses. In fact, Hartmut Esslinger, founder of frog design delivered a keynote yesterday at the World Design Congress that detailed his own life-long approach to injecting emotion into design. There’s now even a cross disciplinary field, neuroeconomics, which endeavors to measure how people and that squishy thing between their ears process such decisions about brands and products.

Yet while the business of emotions has been understood as a concept, finding out where exactly those responses were taking place (within the brain) was still something of a mystery. That is until recently. What science is increasingly showing is that the same places in the brain that register comfort and contentment also happen to light up when people are shown familiar products and brands.

To that end, Gregg Davis, principal and co-founder of Design Central, an industrial design company based in Columbus, Ohio, spent an hour explaining why the design community should redouble its efforts and try to tap into this emotional gold mine. [From WIRED.com: Designers See Dollar Signs In Your Emotions.]

This makes a lot of sense, and certainly neuromarketing technologies like fMRI, EEG, and facial coding could be pressed into service to gauge true emotional response to products.


norman-nielsenEmotional design is gradually gaining mind share. Last year, we looked at usability guru Don Norman’s book, Emotional Design, and found it interesting that this champion of function over form had shifted gears so rapidly. (We also wondered how Norman and business partner Jakob Nielsen were reconciling Norman’s new love of design for design’s sake in Norman vs. Nielsen.) It’s a powerful statement when a consultant and theorist who has built his career on making products simple, usable, and entirely transparent to their users suddenly starts talking about emotional design and how the emotional impact of products can trump their function. An example of this is the Phillipe Starck juicer that appears on the cover of his book. This device is intriguing and possesses a sculptural beauty, but is mystifying to the first-time viewer and not particularly practical for making juice. Nevertheless, Norman found that it was appealing both because of its striking appearance an that it surprised viewers when they discovered its purpose.

There’s the potential for a great combination of art and science in the process of emotional design. Brain scans can in no way replace the creative aspect of a brilliant design, but using advanced techniques to measure customer response and emotional engagement have the potential to avoid non-starter designs and make good design even better.

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