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Saturday, 12 May 2012

Emotional Design

I noticed today that ebay have updated their iPad app - its quite a large upgrade, but something's just not quite right.  Its hard to put your finger on it.  Its not quite fluid enough.  It doesn't feel quite correct.  The button presses juuuust aren't responsive enough.  I can't put my finger on precisely what is wrong - but I know instinctively that it is wrong. 

Its hard to define what makes a positive emotional response, but you know when it is there, just as I knew the ebay app is missing something.

I had the pleasure of purchasing a new camera the other week.  It's an Olympus OM-D EM-5.  Olympus have understood emotional response in a way that ebay don't.  This thing is built like a brick.  It has the quietest and most muffled shutter sound I've ever heard.  It's like a stealth shutter - full of damping, a nice solid but restrained thump.  Not a metallic clack like my previous Panasonic G3.  I've never had a Leica, but this is how I imagine it to sound.  I knew within only a few minutes this camera was going to make me smile.  Its not just the shutter sound, but so many things are "just right" and the shutter is such a good example of the design philosophy that permeates.

Of course, Apple are the most famous examples of emotional design.  The iPhone4 is a piece of art - compare all that glass and steel to the plastic of its rivals.  The heft and feel is just like my beautiful OM-D.  Its hard to be definitive - exactly what did Apple and Olympus do well?  There are so many small items.  

This emotional response to the design comes only when everything, but everything, has been designed with a philosophy of delighting the user.  The moment you stop thinking of that delight, the mask drops and horrible little compromises creep in.  They may be tiny things, but they will be there.  There will probably be a lot of them - and collectively they will tell your user that "this designer had a budget to meet", not "this designer is a genius".

There's also a clear business case for good design.  Look at Apple's sales and share price - its hard to argue that their approach to design isn't a huge part of that success.  Olympus?  Well, they're just learning to do good design - maybe the OM-D will define a route to a profitable future.   For another example, if you get the chance to drive a Jaguar XK-8, blip the throttle and listen to the exhaust note - they actually tuned the exhaust to make the exact right growl.  I don't own one, but would love to, they understand emotional design.

Little things make the emotional response - its worth taking a little extra time to get them "just right". 

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