Emotion Drives Decision Making More Than Simple Reasoning

With the holidays fast approaching, it can be a frantic time for shopping and list making, but we all enjoy giving presents and take joy in what we receive, right? It’s that time of the year when people’s attention is focused on the holiday ritual of gift-giving. Shoppers search for the right gift for the special people in their lives. Gift exchange is a major part of celebrating; the whole act of gift-giving improves psychological health by showing interest, appreciation, and gratitude, as well as strengthening bonds with others.

The good news is that humans are wired for emotional attachment to products — and emotional design can influence those motivators, paving the way to a company’s competitive advantage and, of course, great consumer happiness.

Everything around us has been designed in some way, and all design ultimately produces an emotion. We experience an emotional reaction to our environment moment-by-moment: a like or a dislike, elation, joy, frustration, et cetera. It’s personal. We “feel” it. Most people believe that the purchase choices they make result from a rational analysis of available alternatives. In reality, however, emotions greatly influence and, in many cases, even determine our decisions.

I believe that emotion is a necessary ingredient to almost all decisions – and we can plan for it. When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences which lead to our decision. Emotions are the primary reason why consumers prefer certain products over others, especially as the world shifts from a solutions-market to an outcome-market.

After all, many of the products we buy are available as generic and store brands with the same ingredients and features at cheaper prices. Why do we decide to pay more for one product over another? After all, a brand is nothing more than a mental representation of a product in the consumer’s mind. If the representation consists only of the product’s attributes, features, and other information, there are no emotional links to influence consumer preference and action. The richer the emotional content of a brand’s mental representation, the more likely the consumer will be loyal to it. Isn’t “I love it” better than “I like it”?

Each generous action we take rewires the brain for happiness and resilience, one gift at a time.

An understanding of consumer purchase behavior must be based on knowledge of human emotion and include the paramount influence that emotions have on decision-making. These are categorical examples of emotional design:

Visceral. This appeals to our first reactions when we encounter a product. It mainly deals with aesthetics and the perceived quality from mere look and feel, and the engagement of the senses. Some people call this “gut reaction.”

Behavioral. This refers to the usability of the product; an assessment of how well it performs the desired functions, and how easily people learn how to use it. By this stage, we will have formed a more justified opinion of the item.

Reflective. This is concerned with our ability to project the product’s impact on our lives after we have used it—e.g., how it makes us feel when not holding it, or what values we find ourselves attaching to the product in retrospect. This is where designers want to maximize the users’ desire to own that item and recommend it to others.

Emotions play a central role in the human ability to understand and learn about the world. Positive experiences kindle our curiosity, and negative ones protect us from repeating mistakes. Humans form emotional connections with objects on three levels: the visceralbehavioral, and reflective levels. Designers address the human cognitive ability at each level—to elicit appropriate emotions so as to provide a positive experience.

“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”

― Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things


Customer experience strategies need to include designing for the entire human experience which includes emotion. At Altitude, we use the power of ethnography, user research, and concept testing to effectively set up and gauge the emotional effect of the product on humans. Doing testing, deep research, and subsequent touch-point mapping to identify pain points, our team can identify the frustrations users may encounter while buying/using/storing the product within its ecosystem. How much would people love the iPhone X and pay $1,200 without an effective operating system, amazing applications, battery longevity, and relevant iTunes selections? Good designers strive to eliminate these frustrations and find opportunities that bring customers pleasure and turn critical moments into positive emotional experiences. Gift-giving is the perfect resonance testing for this approach.

Happy holidays and good luck with shopping. And if you want to continue this conversation about emotional design, please reach out.

Brian Matt

Posted By: 

Brian Matt

Founder & Chairman