Dare to Desire! in Hong Kong


The Sixth Design and Emotion Conference jointly organized by the School and Design and Emotion Society kicked off on PolyU campus on 7 October. This is the first time the biennial conference is being held in Asia.

Themed “Dare to Desire”, the international Conference brought together practitioners, researchers and the industry from all over the world to exchange knowledge and insights concerning the cross-disciplinary field of design and emotion.

World renowned figures in the field giving keynote speeches at the Conference include Donald Norman, Breed Professor of Design at Northwestern University, cofounder of the Nielsen Norman Group and former Vice President of Apple Computer; Jan Chipchase, Principal Researcher of Nokia Research Centre; Raman Hui, Director of “Shrek the Third”; Bill Green, Professor of Industrial Design at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA; and Lorraine Justice, Director of The Hong Kong Polytechnic University School of Design. We highlight some of the key points from the first keynote at the conference. At the beginning of Prof Donald Norman’s speech, he said “There is nothing special about emotion…emotions are there all the time and they are linked to our nervous system.” What is important, as he pointed out with a variety of examples, is the context of society and other people that bring forth emotions. It is this context where design will contribute to positive emotions.

Power of social structure

Donald thinks it is important to pay attention to Sociable Signifiers when designing – natural and artificial. Natural signifiers are signs that we find useful and these are usually dynamic and are unpredictable. He cited an example of train platforms where people are often confused about train arrivals and departures when the only indication is the amount of people waiting. Does an empty platform mean a train just left? Does a crowded platform mean that a train should be arriving soon, or maybe a train simply missed its schedule? In the case of Hong Kong, this natural signifier would be even more confusing as people traffic is always high and such indications become irrelevant. Good information design could come to rescue in this case.

Artificial signifiers are all the signs that people develop that are meant to serve specific purposes. Donald thinks these are more meaningless than useful most of the time noticing that people often pull doors that say push on them, and push doors that say pull. A crucial consideration in the process of design is to watch traces of people, which are powerful signals of what they like and how they behave. Landscape architects often put hedges, fences and even lakes to avoid people from ruining their beautiful “design”, forgetting that without effective access or get arounds, their design end up damaged anyway.

In the virtual world, traces of people can be found in social networks. A lot of us would have benefited from book suggestions from Amazon.com, or Christmas gift ideas on eBay, and even “suggested” news articles that you read on CNN because it was most read by readers to that website. All of these convenience features that enhance user experience are products of designing, analyzing, and re-designing based your shopping or reading behavior.

Unsociable design

Donald noticed that designers worry a lot about the single user, but reality is that designs are usually used by multiple users. Have you ever had the experience of ordering
2 hamburgers with extra pickles, 1 hamburger with extra ketchup, 1 regular hamburger, 1 double hamburger, 1 hamburger, and 1 hamburger with cheese and no pickles with extra ketchup at a fast food restaurant? You get the idea. There wouldn’t have been duplicate orders if the customer can share the ordering screen together with the person behind the counter.

Waiting lines on the other hand can be sociable and pleasant, for example, lines are very important at Disneyland. Lines on one hand is a natural signifier on whether a particular activity is fun, it is also another channel of revenue since you consume other products or services while you’re waiting – ice cream, water, a photo with the Mickey, and so on. Designing a holistic environment that makes waiting a pleasant experience is thus very important to service oriented industries like theme parks, train stations, airports, even supermarkets. Offer entertainment or some food samples to taste to enhance the emotions of waiting, and ensure fairness throughout the experience, as the memory of it will last a long time.

In Memory, Emotions Dominate

Donald quoted a study done by Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman who gave a group of people a 20 minutes of unpleasant experience, and another group the same 20 minutes of unpleasantness but with an extra 5 minutes of less severe unpleasantness. The result turns out that the group that had 25 minutes of unpleasantness had an experience far more positive than the first group. This was because the last 5 minutes dominated the group’s memory of what happened. The ending is what matters.

A good example of this in real life is souvenirs. Souvenirs are reflective pieces that are triggers for memories. You can design a very nice piece of souvenir to take home, but make sure the experience you designed for your customers are also positive.

Sociable control

The final concept introduced was the nudge principle. Donald cited the book “Nudge” by Richard H.Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein that talks about anything that influences
our choice. Designers should work hard to influence people’s choices without inducing any force. The principle is “How do you get people to do things that are good for
them?” Furniture store Ikea does this very well by creating a shopping path for their customer that will take them to every corner of store, but at the same time provide many
exit paths. This makes your first visit to the store complete, but your recurring visits efficient. The entire shopping experience is managed every step of the way. In summary,
“sociable design are all of these things put together – To recognize that when we work, when we design, when we do things, it’s always involved with other people,
in many ways subtle and we’re not aware of it, we’re just there. A good designer must take account of it, and better yet, can take advantage of it.”

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