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  • Writer's pictureTyler Scholl

How Emotional Design Can Take Your Life Back From Tech Overload

Updated: May 5, 2023

This article originally appeared as an 'Open Mic' feature in the VCL Newsletter 'The Curve' - subscribe here.


Tyler here. Ahhh. 2023. What is there to stress about? In an insatiable society of endless distraction I don’t need to remind you of the excess notifications your phone sends you (hopefully you’ve turned enough off to maintain sanity).

While we are pulled in infinite directions…we still get to choose.

There is a growing magnetism toward simplicity among many, with books and bookstores making a comeback here in Massachusetts and across the country (except VT Universities apparently). This resurgence of bookstores and other analog experiences can be appreciated, in part, to the emotional design principles coined by Donald Norman.

Emotional design is the idea that products should be designed not only with functionality in mind, but also with the user's emotional experience in mind. This means taking into account the way that people feel when they use a product, and designing that product in a way that evokes positive emotions. This idea arguably creeps into the digital space as a core component of good UX through low friction experiences with appropriate moments of delight (such as a little wiggle micro animation to make an error feel less harsh, or a celebratory haptic paired with a successful Duolingo lesson). The problem here is the oversaturation and repetition of digital delight in everything we do, often leaving us numb to these increasingly forgettable moments. We don’t often know what we need until we have it, and in the case of this topic, we had what we wanted all along.


While e-books and digital reading devices may be more convenient, they lack the emotional connection that people feel when they browse antique carved wood shelves, admire thoughtfully arranged displays, caress a camouflaged cat cozied up between the bestsellers, and smile from the radiating energy and passion of the clerk. There is a sense of excitement and possibility that comes with flipping through pages and discovering new authors in bookstores — primarily the local brick and mortar ones (sorry Barnes & Noble) — and this emotional design is key to their resurgence. Bookstores offer a unique and emotionally resonant experience that simply can't be replicated in the digital world (… yet?).

This emotional experience is what draws people back to bookstores, even in a world where digital books are readily available. By tapping into our emotional connections to physical books, bookstores are able to create an experience that is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.

The same can be said for the trend of teenagers turning to classic flip phones and basic electronics in social gatherings. What’s more satisfying than ending a phone call with the *WHOP* of closing a flip phone? IYKYK. While smartphones and other high-tech devices may be more functional, they can also be a source of constant distraction and stress. Basic technology, on the other hand, offers a simpler and more emotionally satisfying experience.

By removing the constant barrage of notifications and updates, flip phones, brick phones, and dumb watches allow people to live closer to the present and to connect with the people around them in a more meaningful way. They offer a sense of simplicity and peace that is increasingly hard to find in a world that is constantly connected.

The resurgence of bookstores and the rise of basic technology are both examples of how emotional design is a component of our everyday experiences, and the joy we look to design for may not need the extra carbon footprint and shiny plastic wrapping. By stepping out of our digital lives and reconnecting to physical things and simpler technology, these trends can remind us to be present and realize that we have what we crave. Go outside. Listen to the birds. Connect to the beauty you’re experiencing and CMD (Orrrr CTRL)+S that for later. Peace out friends. PS: As we are product people, we can’t help but share these glasses that’ll suppress the bombardment of stimulus from digital screens. 😉 https://www.irl-labs.co/


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