The Emotional Side of Design

I think that because this is really much more of a task-based application than other parts of the system, that it makes sense for the UI to be reconfigurable.
I said something to that effect in a recent meeting. It was in regards to how we could create a dynamic UI layout structure to allow for a more flexible presentation of information that is driven by user intent instead of just designing static screens. You see, when designing a UI, the most common thing to try to do is lock things down in-place, so that text and images always display in a consistent manner. But what the hell does that even mean?

What is a task, really?

I talked about “task-based interactions” because I was trying to speak to the principle of helping the user quickly and easily achieve an objective, but what does that even mean?

In general, it can be good to design an interaction model around tasks and effective task completion. But in a way, that stuff is all just a bunch of rubbish, isn’t it? I mean, what is a “task”? How is the concept of a “task” defined? How much more UI is needed when a “task” is complete? There were all these questions that lingered in my mind long after I left the meeting, and perhaps we should really start looking into the emotional side of what task-completion means in order to understand the answers to these questions.

When people decide to do (or not do) things, there is almost always an intellectual aspect to that decision-making process. You use reason to carefully weigh the benefits of what you need to do against the difficulty of doing those things, in order to prepare yourself for the work at hand. But things become much more interesting when people decide to do a certain thing first versus last. In this case, there can also be an emotional aspect to the decision making process as well.

We express our preference along with our rationale when we factor in priority, and in this way, we are packaging emotion into defining what tasks need to be completed. Additionally, when a task is actually complete, there can be an emotional release at the end, that feeling of success and satisfaction when a job is done and done well. This is why it is also emotionally frustrating when something that was once thought to be complete is reopened at a later date.

Roy_Lichtenstein_Drowning_Girl

Designing for emotion

So to bring it all back to the original point, I suppose that in hindsight, when I was talking about this whole task-based interaction model, I was really imagining the emotional impact of achieving something and how that can be a much more important motivator for someone to take an action. Of course, intellectual decisions play an important role, but perhaps the feeling of success and satisfaction that comes at the end of a task (regardless of the difficulty) is what really drives people’s behavior.

In my specific case, it means I have a lot more work to do to imagine new and different ways of designing a UX framework that can help people to get excited about using our product and stay engaged with our application, and not just appeal to someone’s sense of clear and precise logic. This is much easier said than done but over the coming weeks, I will commit to incorporating these ideas in my work!

Epilogue

I recently went through a difficult and emotional time in my life, and I happened to think about the topic for this post in the wake of what was going on. With no other better use of my time, I sat down to write the draft while waiting to catch a flight, and then it hit me. The pure absurdity of the moment, of me writing about design (which is, of course, very important to me) while sitting in a busy airport, waiting to go to a funeral. It all was a bit much and I put it away.

In general, I never really gave myself much room to accept how I felt (on an emotional level) about the events of my life. I guess it stems from how I grew up. But going through this recent tragedy helped me understand how important that really is, to be able to accept how I feel in difficult times and not just try to block it out.

There were a few people that I leaned heavily on during this time, and who were really able to talk me through things. I don’t think they read my writing here, but if you are, all I can really say is “Thank you”. The gratitude I have in my heart for all that you did for me is simply not able to be expressed in such simple words.

And to the One whose passing helped bring this personal transformation about, I know I haven’t always been the best person I should be, but I hope that I was able to make you proud of me.

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The Emotional Side of Design

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