Getting Emotional to Improve User Experience


From Personal Connections to Publishing Insights

Bec Evans


I fell in love with books as a child. I loved reading, holding, and smelling books (I grew out of tasting them quite quickly). Going to the library was a thrilling experience – between visits I created a home library and play-acted lending books to my brothers and sister. It was how books made me feel that got me interested in publishing; that early experience has shaped my whole career.

Many years later I’ve worked on the emotional connection people have with books. In short, I found that understanding how people feel can transform their experience of your products and services – and have a big impact on the bottom line.


We Live in an Experience Age

Customers don’t just buy products and services – they experience them, often at an emotional level.

As Bernadette Jiwa writes in Difference: “The truth is people don’t fall in love with ideas at all. They fall in love with how those ideas, products, services and places make them feel.”

The creative industries have known this for years – making people feel something is what we do best. By understanding the emotional connection that people feel during a game, concert, film or exhibition you can create more powerful experiences for them.

User experience puts people’s needs, wants and motivations front and centre in the design process. It starts with feelings. For a primer on user experience check out this 2016 article by Sam Fry.


Understanding Your ‘Users’

User research is the cornerstone of user experience. That means observing people in their day-to-day life to see how they interact with products and services – including in your own.

I work with Emerald Publishing, a specialist publisher of business and management books and journals. Its users are academics, researchers and practitioners who have a specific area of interest and a large part of their work is looking for articles. When you ask about this discovery process they get excited; they describe spotting a reference or getting an alert, the thrill of tracking it down, the anticipation to see if it’s useful or interesting, the joy of reading it.

How they talk about it is as important as what they say. Doing user research is much like being an anthropologist, observing people in their environments and noting what they do and say – and identifying where’s there’s a difference between their words and actions.

So: the goal of Emerald’s users is to locate and then read articles and books. Achieving that goal makes them happy.

The business of publishing, therefore, is to provide content that people want – and charge them for it. You could say that publishers want to make users happy by giving them what they want to read. It’s such a simple transaction, yet we can get it wrong.




When Design Thwarts User Needs

We’ve all been there, scrolling through our Twitter or Facebook feed when we spot something of interest, click on the link, only to hit a paywall. For most of us, it’s a minor annoyance, we curse and move on. If your job success depends on getting access to that article it’s hugely frustrating.

Most of Emerald’s customers are institutions like universities and business schools whose subscription allows access to articles. If you work for or study at that institution you can read and download all the content for free. However, if you’re a guest user with no institutional access you hit a paywall and must register to read the article. This can be infuriating.

And it’s not just bad for the user – stopping people achieving their goals is bad for business. When I checked the data on unregistered users I found that a third of them abandoned their shopping carts. If you calculate the loss in revenue it’s significant. If you need to make the case for improving user experience do the maths and give managers concrete figures!


Happy Users are Good for Business

One of my favourite user experience case studies is the $300 million button. This story demonstrates that making very small changes in user experience – in this case changing one button in the check-out process from ‘register’ to ‘continue’ – can have a huge impact on revenue.

One company made an additional $300 million because they observed users’ frustrations, spoke to them to understand what was going on, and used data to validate.

I urge you to get in touch with your user’s emotions, and design experiences that remove frustration and instead bring them delight. Who knows, you might even find your own $300 million button…

Here’s a five-step approach for improving online experience and making users happy:

  1. Listen and observe your users to figure out their needs, wants and motivations – understand how they feel.
  2. Look for frustrations in their interactions with your product or service.
  3. Dig into the data to see if this frustration is impacting the user experience for others, and set up analytics to track at scale.
  4. Design better experiences, removing any friction and aiming for delight.
  5. Check back with users to see if the changes have worked – by doing user testing and setting up analytics.


Images courtesy of Holger Prothmann and Kate Ter Haar.


bec evans

Bec Evans

Bec Evans is the co-founder of Prolifiko, a digital productivity coach that helps writers kick-start and continue their writing habits. In addition to running an early stage startup, she also works as head of innovation for Emerald Group Publishing. Bec was highly commended digital achiever in the Bookseller’s annual Futurebook awards for 2016 and Prolifiko was named by Creative England as one of its top creative innovative companies for 2017.


Author: Naomi Curston

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