Affective Aspects

Sharp, Rogers, Preece — INTERACTION DESIGN: beyond human-computer interaction

This article discusses how interactive systems can be designed to provoke an emotion within the user.

Ways of conveying the status of a system:
• Dynamic icons, e.g. a recycle bin expanding when a file is placed in it.
• Animation, e.g. a bee flying across a screen indicating that the computer is doing something
• Spoken messages, using various kinds of voices,
• Various sonifications indicating actions and events, e.g. whoosh for window closing,

But don’t be too cutesy! Know your audience.

The style of an interface, in terms of the shapes, fonts, colors, babnce, white space, and graphical elements that are used and the way they are combined , can also influence its affectiveness. Use of imagery at the interface can result in more engaging and enjoyable experiences (Mullet and Sano, 1995). Until recently, however. the focus of HCI was primarily on usability, with scant attention being paid to the design of aesthetically pleasing interfaces. Empirical studies showing that the aesthetics of an interface can have a positive effect on people’s perception of the system’s usability (Tractinsky, 1997, 2000) have begun
to change that, and the importance of aesthetics is gaining acceptance within the HCI community.

When the ‘look and feel ‘ of an interface is pleasing, e.g. beautiful graphics, nice feel to the way the elements have been put together, well-designed fonts, elegant use of images and color, a good sense of balance, users are likely to be more tolerant, e.g. they may be prepared to wait a few more seconds for a website to download. Furthermore. good-looking interfaces are often more satisfying and pleasurable to usc. A key concern, therefore, is to strike a balance between designing pleasurable and usable interfaces.

In many situations, computer interfaces may inadvertently elicit negative emotional responses, such as anger and disgust. Tins typically happens when something thJt should he simple to use or set turns out to be complex. This does not mean that developers are unaware of such usability problems. Several methods have been devised to help the novice user get set up and become familiarized with a technology. However, these have sometimes backfired, since the design solution itself has ironically become a source of annoyance and frustration (Ex: Agent-based software: Bob in the living room scenario” too cutesy or childish; “Clippy” too intrusive and distracting).

There are many reasons why such emotional responses occur:

  • When an application doesn ‘t work properly or crashes.
  • When a system doesn’t do what the user wants it to do.
  • When a user’s expectations are not met.
  • When a system does not provide sufficient infonnation to let the user know what to do.
  • When error messages pop up that are vague or obtuse.
  • When the appearance of an interface is too noisy, garish, gimmicky, or patronizing.
  • When a system requires users to carry out too many steps to perform a task, only to
    discover a mistake was made somewhere along the line and they need to start all over

Ideally, error messages should be treated as how-to-fix-it messages.

  • Messages should be courteous
  • Avoid using terms like FATAL, ERROR, INVALID, BAD, and ILLEGAL.
  • Avoid long code numbers and upper case letters
  • Audio warnings should be under the user’s control
  • Messages should be precise
  • Messages should provide a help icon or command to allow users to get context-sensitive help.
  • Messages should be provided at multiple levels so that short m essages can be supplemented with longer explanations

People are often frustrated by:

  • Websites that are overloaded with text and graphics, making it difficult to find the information desired and slow to access.
  • Flashing animations, especially flashing banners and pop-up ads
  • The overuse of sound effects and music, especially when selecting options, carrying out actions, running tutorials, or watching website demos.
  • “Featuritis” — an excessive number of operations, such as the array of buttons on a remote control.
  • Childish designs that keep popping up on the screen, such as certain kinds of helper agents.
  • Poorly laid out keyboards, pads, control panels, and other input devices that cause users to persistently press the wrong keys or buttons.

A diversity of technologies are increasingly being used to draw people’s attention to certain kinds of information in an attempt to change what they do or think (ex: pop-up ads, warning messages, reminders, prompts, personalized messages, and recommendations). Fogg (2003) has labeled this phenomenon ‘persuasive technology‘; interactive computing systems that are deliberately designed to change people’s attitudes and behaviors. Successful examples include: Amazon’s 1-click mechanism; recommender systems; splash pages to online shopping sites; color images on travel sites.

Such strategies can also be used to change people’s behaviors in non-commercial domains, such as safety, preventative healthcare, fitness, personal relationships, and learning (ex: Pikachu pedometer; Waterbot)

Anthropomorphism (the propensity people have to attribute human qualities to objects) is something that people do naturally in their everyday lives and is commonly exploited in the design of technologies. The approach is also becoming more widespread in interaction design, through the introduction of agents and interactive toys. Also used in design of human- computer dialog, modeled on how humans talk.


  • Anthropomorphic interfaces, especially those that use first-person dialog and screen characters, are deceptive. They can make people feel anxious, resulting in them feeling inferior or stupid (Shneiderman).
  • Can also lead people into a false sense of belief. Entice users to confide in agents called ‘software bots’ that reside in chatrooms and other electronic spaces, pretending to he conversant human beings.
  • Children are no longer required to use their imagination when acting out real-life scenarios.
  • People find them very annoying. Once they discover the ruse, ppl will become disillusioned and distrust it; or become annoyed or bored.

A number of studies have investigated people’s reactions and responses to computers that have been designed to be more human-like and the findings are mixed. Sometimes it has lead to positive emotions in the users; sometimes it has lead to feelings of distrust. Sometimes the design is a factor (if the face looks stern; if it looks or acts too lifelike, the expectation in the user becomes too high).

Theories of emotion and pleasure arc also beginning to appear in interaction design to explain people’s responses to and uses of interactive products. Most prominent is Don Norman’s (2004), who has shifted his attention from the psychology of design to considering more centrally what he calls ‘emotional design.’ He argues that our emotional attachment and involvement with products is as important as how easy we find them to use. If we find the look and feel of a product pleasing, we are likely to have a more positive experience.

Models of Affect:

Norman and his colleagues, Andrew Ortony and William Revelle (2004), have proposed a model of emotion that explains how emotion and behavior are determined by different levels of the brain.


The visceral level responds rapidly, making judgments about what is good or bad, safe or dangerous, pleasurable or abhorrent. It also triggers the emotional responses to stimuli, e.g. fear, joy, anger, and sadness that are expressed through a combination of physiological and behavioral responses.

The behavioral level is the site where most human activities occur; examples include well-learned routine operations such as talking, typing, and driving.

The reflective level entails conscious thought where we generalize across events or step back from the routine and the immediate. An example is switching between thinking about the narrative structure and special effects used in a Harry Potter movie and becoming scared at the visceral level when watching the movie.

According to Norman (2004), when people are happy they are more likely to overlook and cope with minor problems they are experiencing with a device. In contrast, when someone is anxious or angry they are more likely to be less tolerant. If the product is intended to be used during leisure time and is meant to be fun and enjoyable to use, then designers “can get away with more” and not be too worried about how the information appears on the interface. On the other hand, for serious tasks, such as monitoring a process control plant or driving a car, designers need to pay special attention to all the information required to do the task at hand and that the interface should be visible with clear and unambiguous feedback.

A less controversial application of the model is to think aboul how to design products in terms of the three levels: Visceral design refers to maklng products look, feel, and sound good (clean lines, balance, color, shape, and texture). Behavioral design is about use and equates with the traditional values of usability. Reflective design is about taking into account the meaning and personal value of a product in a particular culture. For example, the design of a Swatch watch focuses on reflective aspects, where the aesthetics, the use of cultural images and graphical elements are central.

Patrick Jordan (2000) has proposed an alternative affective model that focuses on the pleasurable aspects of our interactions with products. There are 4 conceptually distinct types of pleasure:
(i) physio-pleasure — bodily pleasure connected to sensory experiences, e.g. touch, taste, and smell.
(ii) socio-pleasure — the enjoyment of being in the company of others, such as loved ones, friends, and colleagues.
(iii) psycho-pleasure — people’s emotional and cognitive reactions to a product.
(iv) ideo-pleasure (cognitive) — refers to people’s values and is akin to the reflective level of Norman’s model. It entails the aesthetics of a product and the cultural and personal values a person attributes to it.


McCarthy and Wright propose four core threads that make up our holistic experiences:
1. compositional — the narrative part of an experience, as it unfolds, and the way a person makes sense of them. The internal thinking we do during our experiences.
2. sensual — our sensory engagement with a situation, similar to the visceral level of Norman’s model. It call be equated with the level of absorption people have with various technological devices and applications.
3. emotional — emotions are intertwined with the situation in which they arise. e.g. a pcrson becomes angry with a computer because it does not work properly.
4. spatio-temporal — the space (public, private, personal) and time in which our experiences take.


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