Sound Stories #021 – Exploring Emotional Design

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    Emotional design can help your story come alive in new and imaginative ways…as long as you know what it is! Erika Lutz, Creative Director at Lumosity shares how she and her team use emotional design to help motivate, entertain and engage their audience of brain-training game enthusiasts. Get the scoop on what emotional design is, and find inspiration on how you can incorporate it into your communications too.

    Lumosity’s: www.lumosity.com
    Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Objects by Don Norman https://www.nngroup.com/books/emotional-design/

    TRANSCRIPTION SOUND STORIES #021

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Hi there. And welcome to another episode of Sound Stories, an inspirational podcast for creative professionals and storytellers who want to improve their lives at home and at work. I’m Stephanie Ciccarelli, your host and co founder of voices.com.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    As a storyteller, you’ve likely heard that knowing your audience is the key to successful communication. As a creative director at Lumosity, Erika Lutz takes the rule of thumb to a new level, her knowledge of who her target audience is and what motivates them, engages them, and delights them goes several layers deeper than most companies ever venture.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So today Erika is joining us to talk about emotional design and how her team at Lumosity keeps their audience at the heart of their product creation and marketing efforts. Welcome Erika.

    Erika Lutz:
    Hi Stephanie. Thanks so much for having me.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Oh, you’re welcome. It’s a treat. So just to get things going here, a lot of people may have heard about Lumosity and of course your brain training games. So can you tell us what it’s like to be a creative director there and just describe what it is that you do?

    Erika Lutz:
    Sure. So Lumosity is a brain training company and we have a lot of games that people can play on their desktop or their phone or their tablet. And it’s a way that you can train a lot of core cognitive abilities via playfulness. So, as a creative director here we have a huge creative team and all different kinds of contributors from visual designers to UX designers, copywriters, motion designers.

    Erika Lutz:
    We have a whole team of people thinking about how to build the emotional experience from a lot of different perspectives.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Wow. So like what do you do on a daily basis? Can you give us a day in the life for yourself?

    Erika Lutz:
    Sure. So I work pretty closely with all of the designers. We meet every morning to talk over the different designs that we’ve been working on and people are involved at different points in the process. We meet every day to kind of share the designs that we’ve been working on and then we also have very regular user testing where we bring in users into the office to talk about what they’re thinking and feeling and experiencing as we’re working through the design, so that when we are collecting a lot of the quantitative data, we have the qualitative data to understand where those decisions are coming from.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    That’s awesome. I can only imagine what it would be like to be brought into the Lumosity offices to do one of your user testing and just understanding even what that process is, would be really, really cool. But what I find is that the more that I’m digging into the craft of storytelling, as I’m sure you probably agree, there’s always new terms and techniques that we need to learn.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So you have a special focus on emotional design, which sounds really interesting. Are you able to give us an overview of what emotional design is?

    Erika Lutz:
    Yes, I would love to. So I get really excited talking about this. For those of you who’ve never heard of emotional design, it was first a book written by Don Norman. He’s also given a really great TED Talk, but it’s also a concept that’s kind of evolved beyond the book that a lot of designers are starting to think about.

    Erika Lutz:
    We as humans, we have emotions, emotions are universal, and they’re also very sensual and we forget how animalistic we all are. We have these bodies that we use that are full of all these different sensations that feed into the way that we think about things and experience the world. So we feel for things that really appeal to us, that we can create this emotional connection with and it’s almost like creating a bond. And I believe that the heart of creating any human centered experience is because we’re able to connect at a really raw level.

    Erika Lutz:
    So I can go into just a little bit more about how emotional design is outlined in the book to kind of help you understand. There’s kind of three different dimensions that you can think about how to perceive something. The first is that it’s the visceral level and that’s our very immediate emotional impact that comes from our gut reaction to something. And it’s subconscious, we don’t even think about it. It’s our first impression that influences our perception of what that thing is.

    Erika Lutz:
    The second thing is behavioral and that’s the function and the usability of the product. So this is the truth of the way that something really is and not how we perceive it might be. And it’s about the feeling that you’re in control because you understand how to use something.

    Erika Lutz:
    And the third thing is called reflective. That’s the value that you put on something after repeated usage and that’s controlled by the superego, and it’s not the visceral first impression that we get or the function that lies underneath of it, but it’s the way that we value something after we reflect back on it, what it means to us or what it represents about us.

    Erika Lutz:
    So those are the three kinds of dimensions that he talks about and those play into the four pleasures. And it all has to do with the way that we interact with the world. And the four things are called the physio-pleasure, the ideo-pleasure, psycho-pleasure, and socio-pleasure.

    Erika Lutz:
    So physio-pleasure is the woman I get the most excited about because it’s all about the pleasure we get from our innate sensuality. It’s really about being embodied, and at a visceral level, our physical senses take over all of our first impressions. And it’s about how we use our bodies and pleasure we get from our sensory organs, so the way that things look and sound and taste and feel against our skin and smell.

    Erika Lutz:
    So we think about that with some products that exist out there in the real world, we all know the way that it feels to touch a really cold bottle of Coke on a hot day. When we feel the condensation on your hand and you taste the way that it feels against your tongue. We know that, we all noticed that universal feeling. And so those sensations have a real presence that we all know and can relate to. It’s universal. We all have bodies and our sense of physical sensation is pretty universal.

    Erika Lutz:
    The next measure is called the ideo-pleasure, and that’s the pleasure we get from the idea of something, and that taps into our ideas about our own identity and how that object relates to our idea of ourselves. So for example, if we choose to buy like a biodegradable trash bag, that appeals to our idea of being environmentally responsible. So it’s what we choose to affiliate ourselves with and the object that we choose to represent us.

    Erika Lutz:
    The next measure is called psycho-pleasure, and that’s the pleasure we get from cognitive accomplishment. So thinking about how we feel when we accomplish something that we’ve worked really hard for, and that’s like the cognitive pleasure of something.

    Erika Lutz:
    And the fourth is called the socio-pleasure, and that’s the pleasure we get from other people, the things that help us connect to our sense of community. So if you were to think about like a Kit Kat bar, that the candy bar that was designed to share with somebody else. Most people don’t, they just eat the whole thing by themselves, but it was designed so that you could have one and share one with somebody else. And sometimes the social element is being a talking point in and of itself. So Pokemon Go lets us play together but it also worked really well because everyone loved to talk about it with each other and what it was like to play that game.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    All right. So, how would you apply all of this kind of emotional design and taking into account these four areas of pleasure that we all experience? How do you take those and apply them through your work at Lumosity?

    Erika Lutz:
    Yeah. Thank you for asking that. Everything I just talked about is all about the pleasure centers, but I think that we can use those concepts to go beyond just designing for pleasure and just take into account the whole emotional experience of being human. And I think the thing that makes the most sense for me and that I talk about with our team here is that good design relies on as many of these sensors as possible.

    Erika Lutz:
    It’s like we’re conducting a symphony and that’s made up of these sensations based on the way that something looks, moves and sounds. So often when we’re working with design, we focus so much on the way that it looks, but if you think about the way that something moves and it behaves and sounds in tandem with the way that it looks, you can create this whole visceral effect with it.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Oh, I love what you said about it being a symphony, because you’ve got all these senses, sight, hearing, touch, taste. Just amazing. Continue Erika, go ahead.

    Erika Lutz:
    Yeah. So well if you think about it, we rarely experience anything in the real world with just one of our senses in isolation. So leaving out all the others feels really false, and because they overlap each other, each sense tells us something about what we’re experiencing in a little bit of a different way. And each one is able to contribute to a different part of the experience. It’s all part of the same story that we’re able to understand from all these senses.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Wow. Okay. So when you’re in your team and you’re sitting there, you’re trying to take into account all of these different emotional design elements and the senses too, are you eating something fun while you design? I’m just trying to think, like setting the stage. Are you listening to some music? Have you got like, I don’t know, maybe some kind of a fragrance in the air, how would you apply those… The elements around you, do those impact how you would then design for other people?

    Erika Lutz:
    Oh yeah, absolutely. I almost always pick some kind of sound to go along with what I’m working on. And food is also absolutely a big part of it. I was thinking last night before the call about the way that it feels to eat a peach, a really ripe peach, and how it’s not just about the taste, but that it’s also the sticky, sweet smell of the nectar that reaches your nose before anything else, and the sound that you bite into it and the way that the skin feels against your lips. All of those things make up the way that we think about a peach.

    Erika Lutz:
    And coming back to Lumosity, I oftentimes, when I’m working on some kind of a design that has an ambient feel, and most of ours do, I put on a soundtrack to kind of match the feeling that I’m going for.

    Erika Lutz:
    So one example is Playing Koi. Playing Koi is a mobile game that I worked on a couple of years ago. And in that game, you have a pond full of fish that needs to be fed and all the fish are identical and they swim through the leaves and the lily pads and there’s other animals that move throughout the pond as well. And you can only feed one fish at a time and then you need to wait several seconds between the feedings.

    Erika Lutz:
    From a cognitive perspective, it’s a game that trains divided attention, which is the task that requires you to simultaneously pay attention to multiple tasks all at once. From a behavioral perspective, it’s a game about cultivating focused patience, and having to wait is not a pleasurable experience in itself, but you can lean on the payoff and the gratification that you get from the waiting, and from an emotional perspective is we went for a very total experience, so knowing that this game was all about playing with our acute sensation of the passage of time and a natural setting, and it was also very much about water, I put on a soundtrack of ambient water sounds that had a rhythm to it, so I could listen to it over and over again. And that really played into the game where your sense of times slows down.

    Erika Lutz:
    There is no clock and you need to rely on all of your other ambient senses. So it’s like less of a linear narrative and more of a collection of moments. And in the game you can’t watch every single fish to track which one you’ve already fed. You have to relax and tap into all of your other senses to help you play the game. You’re watching the way that they move through the water. You’re hearing the sounds as you move from daylight into night, you see the other pond animals shift, and you can see the fish on take different appearances as the moonlight reflects on them.

    Erika Lutz:
    So the sound of hearing the drips and the ripples and the sound of the wind on the water is very much a part of the experience and the vibe that you’re creating.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Wow. I was just thinking back earlier to what you said about having focus groups come in and maybe it’s this koi game, let’s just say. So when you have people come in and they’re experiencing one of your games, are you tracking their emotional changes and reactions? And are you able to even watch their brainwaves? How exactly are you doing this?

    Erika Lutz:
    We’re absolutely watching their emotional connection to what they’re doing. And I’m looking very much at behavioral things. What is their body language telling me? What is their face doing? When they’re looking at the design, where are they looking at it, what’s catching their attention? When they frown, what made them frown?

    Erika Lutz:
    And oftentimes people aren’t comfortable with you pointing out that you’ve noticed that exact thing. So it’s really the art of studying the way that people are behaving when they’re interacting with your design. We don’t track their brainwaves. It’s really just a very human to human experience of watching the way that they are using it and the emotions that they are expressing, even when they don’t know that they are.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    That’s exciting. I’m just thinking I’ve been part of different sort of groups like that, where you’re beta testing or you’re going through and, you know, the people facilitating really are watching how you’re responding and reacting. So that must be really gratifying to see something that you’ve designed in such a way, taking different factors into account.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    When you see that emotional reaction that you were actually strategically planning to see, when you’ve engineered these sensations and moments of just experience into your games, and when you see that happen and right on cue, you see it, that just must be so gratifying.

    Erika Lutz:
    Oh yeah. It’s such an emotional payoff for me to see that moment. If somebody’s reacting to something that is built with a lot of thought and intention, and maybe all they see is, that you know, for this game, it’s fish swimming around that they have to feed, but if they enjoy it and they have kind of this body experience, then that’s enough. That’s all that they need to know.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    And that’s storytelling, right? Just thinking that you’ve made these experiences, you’ve set them up. People are going to walk through them at their own pace and have them, but how do you approach storytelling differently when you’re hoping to have your story interact with your audience, instead of just delivering a static message?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    I know you’ve set the stage so beautifully, I can see these fish and they’re swimming around and I’m even feeding them, but you know what I mean? I am totally there. Just wondering, do these principles apply to a variety of audiences?

    Erika Lutz:
    It’s a great question. So maybe this is a good point to share another example. We have another product line called LumiKids that’s designed for two to five year olds, and this is the audience that I get the most excited about because children are pure energy and they’re pure emotion. And co-designing with them was a really big part of designing these apps because you’re able to tap into what they are responding to immediately. And you also get a sense of when you’re doing something wrong immediately, they are not shy to tell you when they’re not interested in something, in fact, they don’t even tell you, they will just push it away and go play with the stuffed animals that are nearby.

    Erika Lutz:
    So we had a one activity that we were building. It was a sharing activity in which we were working on social, emotional behaviors. And in the activity we have, it’s an ice cave that’s filled with all of these baby Yetis and there’s a campfire and there is a bag of marshmallows. And what we hoped to train and to encourage was the children to figure out, do they know how to divide up the marshmallows evenly so that each one of these baby Yetis gets a marshmallow and they get the gratification of eating them, without any guidance.

    Erika Lutz:
    So studying what they did, we were kind of surprised and was a pleasant surprise to see that we didn’t need to guide them very much. Having it there available to them, having the marshmallows available and seeing the reaction of each one, gratified from eating the marshmallow was enough for them to want to evenly disperse them amongst all of the others. They experiment at first, sometimes they’ll load up, you know, one of the Yeti gets all of the marshmallows and they see the others are dissatisfied, and seeing that kind of, you know, emotional feedback from the ones that are not fed was enough for them to know exactly what to do the next time they played.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    It teaches them to be generous and inequitable.

    Erika Lutz:
    Yeah. And I think that that social, emotional behavior is just as important as teaching the cognitive behavior, especially at a young age, because that’s when they’re really learning how to interact with other children and other people in the world.

    Erika Lutz:
    So, that was one thing that it felt really good to apply, the emotional payoff of seeing when all of them are fed. How do they enjoy that moment? When one of them gets all of them, how do the others feel?

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    That’s a great question and something that occurred to me as we were talking, because this is an audio medium, so I figured I’d throw it out, but do you have any narration or character voices in your games? And if so, how was it that you design that voice to create an emotional reaction in your audience?

    Erika Lutz:
    We do have voices in them and most of our characters don’t speak in any English language because we wanted to make these apps really universal and for any kid, anywhere to be able to play them. So they do make sounds, but the sounds that they make are universal. So it’s laughter, and there’s all different kinds of laughter. There’s a lot of emotive sounds that they make. And I think, where does that come from? That comes from just paying attention to the types of sounds that we all make, that are in between words.

    Erika Lutz:
    They’re little micro expressions. So children are able to pick up on these just as easily. And I almost think they’re more powerful because you’re not relying on all the connotation that comes with the word. You’re relying on the sound and the way that that sound is conveyed.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    No, I like that because as you say, your games are downloaded in, I don’t even know how many countries around the world, but when you have such a great reach as does Lumosity, then you need to make that content accessible and easily understood by anyone. So I appreciate that, but there must be some kind of intonation that is like, as you say, a language of kind of pre-life or as you said, they’re kind of like, oh, what was the word you use? Kind of micro-expressions. That’s a great word. Of just how you can get an emotion or a sentiment across so easily. So applaud you for that one.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    I’m just wondering. So for others out there are producing projects, whether they’re filming them or animating, maybe they’ve written them, they could be print or digital, whatever format that they’re taking. What can we do to keep emotional design in mind as we’re creating?

    Erika Lutz:
    I think the very first thing that anybody can do is to be aware of your own emotional landscape and to be aware of the kinds of things that you are doing as you’re feeling different things, and start paying attention to what other people do, the micro behaviors that they do as they’re feeling things.

    Erika Lutz:
    The first thing you can do is really just study that. And I think that’s probably something that you could relate to also as a voice actor, to be able to emulate anything, you need to study it first.

    Erika Lutz:
    And then the next thing is to know your audience, know who it is that you’re designing for and what you’re trying to draw out of them and test that. You can’t run on your assumptions. Everyone has a slightly different reaction, actually very different reaction. So you have to keep testing your own assumptions of the way that other people will perceive you and what you put out into the world.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Getting to know your audience is really key. And I’m glad that you emphasize that. NoW, I imagine you do that through the groups that come in, but what are other ways that let’s say someone doesn’t have a focus group and they don’t have people that can just invite in and have a test out of what they’re doing, how can they learn more about their audience and then keep a pulse on them over time?

    Erika Lutz:
    So I think that if anybody was to try to understand their audience in absence of a focus group, you need to seek out who it is you’re trying to reach, and you can start interviewing individuals who are representative of that group. That’s something that’s very easy to do with the man on the street, or I prefer to call it person on the street testing, where you approach a stranger and you start talking to them about it.

    Erika Lutz:
    You can also use a survey. That’s another way of getting a very low cost pulse of understanding where people’s motivations and their behaviors and their backgrounds are that might cause them to understand something or behave in a certain way. I would say those are the two easiest things that I would recommend that you could start with.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Awesome. All right. So no doubt you’ve run into people who have discovered, maybe been surprised even, to learn that you guys are tracking their behavior online. Maybe tell me if you’ve experienced that at all. And then what those reactions have been from people.

    Erika Lutz:
    We haven’t had anybody who’s been surprised that we’ve been tracking them. I think we’re living in a world right now where there’s data being collected by everyone and we’re fairly transparent about using our data to help people get better. That’s the whole way that our product works is that we are paying attention to the way that you’re using our product through all of our quantitative data, and then we help make sure that the level is in the right place, or we’re giving you the right cognitive workout based on what we know about you.

    Erika Lutz:
    So it’s a very personal exchange. We’re up front about that from the get go. And I hope it stays that way.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Well, transparency is important, right? And, I mean, I just downloaded an app of some kind in the last couple of days, and I’ve read through all the different terms of service, user agreement and various other links that were available, and yeah, we definitely are part of, as a user, we’re downloading this and we know that you’re going to use certain information and are okay with that, obviously. Otherwise we wouldn’t have downloaded the app.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    So thank you for that answer. And lastly, because I know that we just need to know this, because I am dying to know how Erika Lutz keeps herself sharp. So, what is it that you’re doing kind of on a regular basis to just keep yourself inspired?

    Erika Lutz:
    I spend a lot of time with people that I care about and I spend a lot of time in nature. I think that’s my way of feeling grounded. I listen to music, I look at art, I spend time looking at the world around me. I spend a lot of time just wandering, just to see what there is to see or smell or hear or feel. I feel like there are so many different emotional experiences that you could grab that are right outside of your door. And the real trick is to just go put yourself out there.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Right. So we’ve all got to go take a walk in a nice wooded area with some flowers and breeze and some sun. I think that sounds like a good prescription.

    Erika Lutz:
    Yes. Who doesn’t love sun.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Indeed. Well, I know that you’re in sunny San Francisco, so I’m hoping you’re enjoying that weather, but if there’s anything else that you wanted to leave our listeners with today, what might that be?

    Erika Lutz:
    Oh gosh. I would just say, be kind to yourself, be kind to others. And pay attention to what people are thinking and feeling and expressing and make room for that.

    Erika Lutz:
    I think that doesn’t quite relate to what we talked about, but that’s just my universal ask for people out there in the world.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Fantastic. And so if anyone would like to learn more about Lumosity, Erika, where can they go?

    Erika Lutz:
    You can look up Lumosity on the App Store or the Play Store, or you could go to lumosity.com.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Awesome. Well, thanks so much for being on the program.

    Erika Lutz:
    Thank you so much for having me. I was a pleasure talking to you.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Thank you for tuning in, and if you haven’t already done so, I’d like to invite you to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, as well as give us a rating. We love hearing from you and gathering your feedback.

    Stephanie Ciccarelli:
    Once again, I’m your host, Stephanie Ciccarelli, and I hope you can join us for our next Sound Stories podcast.

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