Darker shades of joy: The contribution of negative emotion in rich product experiences

Steven Fokkinga
PhD project
August 2010 - August 2014
Supervisory team: Pieter Desmet (Promotor) and Paul Hekkert (Co-promotor)
Contact: Steven Fokkinga | s.f.fokkinga[at]tudelft.nl

This project investigates the opportunities to enrich product experiences with negative emotions. ‘User experience‘ is the combination of feelings, thoughts, motivations, and behaviors that people experience while interacting with a ‘product’ – which can be a physical product, a service, or a product-service system. We are interested to know how designers can make these user experiences richer, by looking specifically at the emotions that users have. In our view, designers and researchers too often have simplified assumptions about people’s desires and behaviors. One of these assumptions is that people only want to experience positive emotions, and want to keep as far away from negative emotions as possible. But when considering pastimes like watching melodramatic ‘feel-good’ movies (sadness), riding rollercoasters (fear), listening to rap music (anger) or zapping through reality shows (disgust), we quickly discover that this assumption is only partly true. 

Research goal
The key objective of this project is to develop an understanding of how negative emotions can contribute to enjoyable product experiences. Although various authors have speculated on the contribution of negative emotions to enrich experiences and engage users, the topic has not been investigated systematically. The first sub-goal is to formulate a theoretical framework that explains the conditions under which negative emotions can enrich product experience. The second sub-goal is to develop and test design strategies based on this framework. The third sub-goal is to test and improve these strategies in design practice, in order to validate the underlying proposition that negative emotions can contribute to product experience.

Research agenda
In line with the three sub-goals, the project consists of three main phases. In the first phase, theoretical propositions about the enjoyability of negative emotions in human-product interactions will be formulated. These will be based on theory of emotion and motivation, adapted or specified to be applicable to emotions experienced in human-product interactions. Some of the research questions in this stage are: what are the conditions that determine whether a negative emotion can be enjoyed? Under what conditions do people experience blended or mixed emotions, and when do these emotions constitute ‘rich experiences’?

In the second stage, strategies to use negative emotions for rich experiences will be developed and tested with a research through design-approach. The aim of these strategies is to ‘translate’ and specify the general theory to the design domain, by demonstrating how the theoretical insights can be used for generating design ideas. This stage involves the design of a series of experiential prototypes, which will be used both as a means for developing and testing the different strategies. In addition, an appropriate assessment approach will be selected by testing the applicability validity of various assessment approaches (e.g. self-report, behavior observation).
In the third phase, the resulting strategies will be further detailed by testing application possibilities in realistic design cases that involve clients (e.g. KLM) and users. Moreover, the strategies will be extended to be useful in all design stages, from initial (context) analysis to design materialization.

This project will make use of various methods, catering to the different research stages. First, a literature study will be carried out to investigate what is currently known in emotion theory about the elicitation, function, mechanisms and pleasure of different (negative) emotions. Secondly, a phenomenological research method will be used to investigate the qualities and essence of different (negative) emotional experiences. Thirdly, an experimental research method will prove whether specific (negative) emotions have systematic effects on people’s experience and behavior. Fourthly, to investigate how emotional frameworks can be applied to practical design cases, a research-through-design-method will be used.

Research impact
Negative emotions have been shown to contribute to pleasurable experiences in other domains (e.g. computer games, movies, and art in general), but the contribution of negative emotions to human-product interactions have not yet been systematically examined. In addition, research that aims to understand the conditions under which negative usage emotions can be experienced as pleasurable has not been studied yet. The fundamental understanding of the role of negative emotions in pleasurable usage experiences generated in this project, therefore contributes both to design theory and practice, and possibly to general emotion theory. This knowledge can be used to design products that are distinctive in terms of the experiential impact. Moreover, the knowledge can be used in designing for products in which different negative emotions play a key role, such as commuting at rush hour, hospital environments, daily chores and airplane travel.

This research project is carried out as part of the CRISP program (www.crispplatform.nl), in partnership with Design Academy Eindhoven (www.designacademy.nl) and KLM airlines (www.klm.nl).

Please view publications here

Andrade, E. B., & Cohen, J. B. (2007). On the consumption of negative feelings. Journal of Consumer Research, 34(3), 283-300.
Apter, M. J. (2007). Reversal theory: the dynamics of motivation, emotion, and personality (2nd ed.). Oxford: Oneworld.
Desmet, P. M. A. (2007). Product emotion. In H. N. J. Schifferstein & P. Hekkert (Eds.), Product experience: Elsevier Science.
Dunne, A., & Raby, F. (2001). Design Noir: The Secret Life of Electronic Objects. Basel, Switzerland: August / Birkhäuser.
Frijda, N. H. (2007). The Laws of Emotions. London: Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers.
James Y. Shah, Wendi L. Gardner (2008) Handbook of Motivation Science. New York: Guilford Press
Gaver, W. (2009). Designing for emotion (among other things). Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 364(1535), 3597-3604.
Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Emotion and adaptation. New York: Oxford University Press.