Driving more valuable customer journeys with emotion mapping – Part 1

In this two part series we take a look at how traditional psychological principles can be used to enhance our user experience decision making and influence user’s decision making on an emotional level.

Putting the emotional back into UX

AmazonLet’s face it, none of us make entirely rational decisions online – especially when it comes to online purchasing, donation, registration or other ‘conversion’ activities.

Published findings in neuroscience indicate it is emotion, not reason that primarily drives customers’ purchasing decisions – with emotion stimulating the mind 3,000 times faster than rational thought. Delivering the right messages at the right time leads us manipulate our consideration set and purchasing motivations as we move through a user journey. Research published in the IPA’s ‘New Models of Marketing Effectiveness: From Integration to Orchestration’ found that emotionally led campaigns outperform, with advertisers enjoying a 31 per cent increase in profits compared to a 16 per cent increase for more rational campaigns.

There are a wide range of publications and discussions on effective online and advertising copy and a whole industry driven around the need to test the effectiveness of creative with real users. Often little consideration is given to the role of emotions earlier in the digital development process.

Too frequently the UX and wireframing process is focused on the rational rather than the emotional. As the positioning, layout and wording of individual buttons & fields in page can have a large impact on conversion rates, leaving the focus of this activity too late in the process can be both time consuming and expensive.

Usability professionals are starting to apply science to measure & map emotional response

Usability professionals are starting to apply science to measure & map emotional response. Face recognition techniques and variations on eyetracking technology are starting to deliver more measurable insight on users unconscious feelings to wireframes and online page designs. Whilst valuable, these emotion mapping techniques are again taking place at testing stage on finished work – adding time and budget to often commercially constrained projects.

Measuring emotional engagement right at the start

Plutchik Emotion Wheel

I think there is a way to draw out emotional triggers and incorporate emotional messaging right at the beginning of the process – without having to resort to large, expensive user testing processes.

One of the techniques I like to use is Robert Plutchik’s emotion wheel. Taking its cues from the artist’s colour wheel, it attempts to identify eight different primary emotions (in the centre), with both polar opposites, and different intensities and combinations of each.


However rather than using this technique to map completed designs or wireframes; I think it should be applied earlier in the process to user journeys.

This has a number of benefits:

  • You can get a handle of whether key journeys are going to leave the user in a positive emotional state
  • You can identify areas that are eliciting negative emotions and make sure they are counteracted with opposing, positive emotions
  • You don’t need to make changes to design mock-ups or wireframes, which can take time
  • It helps think about and assign values to what emotional state users are in before they even engage with your system
  • It gives your personas real life emotions and assesses how well your system caters for each one on an emotional level

Using Plutchik’s wheel to measure emotion

In order to apply the emotion mapping technique the first thing we need to do to use this wheel in our work is add ‘scores’ to our emotion wheel. In general, emotions in the central circle are worth either negative or positive 3, those on the 2nd circle are worth negative or positive 2 and those in the 3rd layer are worth negative or positive 1 due to their different intensities.

Surprise! Image courtesy http://bit.ly/YL6f9w

Surprise! Image courtesy http://bit.ly/YL6f9w

There are caveats however. The negative emotions on the 2nd circle can actually be positives when used in certain situations. Surprise can swing both ways too. A great example of this would be pricing, surprise at how expensive something is (-2) or surprise at how great value it is (+2). Certain charity organisations may want to elicit the emotion of ‘sadness’ in order to get people to donate to their cause. Anger or fear at something can result in proactive action on the part of the user.

There is also one exception on the third ring too. Generally distraction is a bad thing; however there are edge cases when it could be considered a positive. An example of this could be messaging on additional offers available to the user at checkout, distracting them from their end goal of purchasing their original choice, but encouraging them to add more items to their order. In this case it would be a +1 emotion – if that is indeed what you are trying to achieve. So use the diagram as a guide, but consider carefully what you are trying to achieve and interpret the values appropriately.

Adding scoring to the wheel gives us a tool to work with

Adding scoring to the wheel gives us a tool to work with

Part 2 – Using the wheel in customer journeys

When using the wheel in this way it can be a powerful tool in a UX process. Read part 2 where I show you how you can use the wheel in your user journeys, and how the interpretations of the scoring can vary based on personas.

* This post is adapted from my whitepaper published in 2012

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