Design for Emotion

Patricia Gallot-Lavallée

I was on a much needed three day retreat to Brussels when I made the turn from Web Strategist / User Experience Expert to Experience Designer. I stayed at the Bloom Hotel, a place where every room is decorated with a unique and gigantic fresco. My days were filled with walks in the city and stopping at cafés or restaurants to enjoy the latest best-selling saga.

I was at a point in my career where I didn’t have much motivation to carry on being a web expert. I would spend all of my energy helping users that I rarely met face to face, leaving me feeling lonely and disconnected. I spent endless days protecting them from a horde of technical glitches and marketing professionals in order to just keep the website simple. It wasn’t that this vocation was bad, but it wasn’t providing any new challenges.

As I was walking through the city, I realized that I was looking for something.  Perhaps every time I walk in a city, no matter which city, no matter which country, I am always looking for the same thing. As I was walking through Brussels, I was looking for shops, restaurants, activities… with a look, a concept… an experience.

Lush, the fancy soap company wasn’t satisfying for me any longer; I had seen them in New York, London and Paris. I guess I’m always looking for the same thing whether I am in Helsinki, Stockholm, Montreal, Porto, or Barcelona. I’m looking for places with a signature experience.

When I discovered the Mr. Potato-Head-all-you-can-fit-in-the-box-challenge in New York, I was satisfied. The concept is as follows: no matter how many pieces of the Mr. Potato Head collection (ears, hats, shoes, bag…) you manage to put in the box, as long as it closes, you pay a flat rate of $18. When I discovered that a youth hostel in Stockholm had rooms on a riverboat, I was satisfied.

As I was walking in the streets of Brussels, thinking about my book, my great hotel room, this great little café by the Parliament; I was thinking that there should be more great books that you don’t want to put down, more great restaurants that people are willing to queue to get into, more hotels where you are just delighted to open your hotel room’s door.

And this is what was missing from my profession. I was working hard on taking away elements of negative emotions: frustration, anger, misunderstanding, and complexity, instead of doing what the entertainment companies do: generate positive emotions… on purpose. I would spend all my energy making websites easy to use, instead of making them delightful to use.

That was it. I finally got it. I wanted to become an Experience Designer, a designer whose purpose was to generate positive emotions. I wanted more of those great products on Earth. I wanted to make our everyday lives more fun, delightful, even –dare I say– fulfilling.

Once I was back in Paris, I decided that I needed to increase my technical skills. Throughout the last ten years, my hobby has been personal development: I had acquired some knowledge about the ‘flow’ as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the languages of love… but I needed more. I’m a technical gal; I need data, I need patterns, I need analysis.

The question lingered: What is it that creates positive emotions within people?

Checking out the psychology curriculum in several universities made me pass on that option. I didn’t want to have my brain focused on diseases and pathologies. As I couldn’t find a university curriculum that would teach me and certify me as an expert on what creates positive emotions with people, I decided to write a book. From my previous experience writing a book, I had realized that it was a great way to simultaneously collect information, get interviews, reflect on topics from a distance as well as provide focus.

Back then and even now, most of my clients not only ask for intuitive websites but they also want Facebook fans. They want ‘likes’ on their posts.  So I decided to investigate what it is that create fans.  Three years forward, I have published four books that describe what creates fans. It has been a wonderful journey.

My research allows me, when working with a group, to present them with questions and guidelines that will lead to more positive emotions. My research gives me a methodology that leads to positive emotions.  Of course a lot of publicists, marketers and designers know what creates positive emotions with people, but I believe that most of them have more of an intuitive approach around this concept, than an approach based on the application of a methodology.

What is my practice as Experience Designer? To me, the term Experience holds several notions. Here is my definition of Experience.

An experience is a moment in time where a participant gets to feel a lot of different emotions.

The emotions are triggered by tangible, concrete objects or actions presented in a manner that one has never seen before.

An experience is usually the source of learning.

An experience is somehow unique.

So when I work with my clients, I know that we need to find a unique mix of putting things together for their customers.

Companies that have fans usually do things differently: they have habits, specific HR guidelines and training. They are organized differently.

On 30% of my projects I manage to work on my own, for example when I design a course for a school, I can work within the constraints the university gives me. When I work on the menu of a restaurant, I use a traditional customer/supplier interaction. When I ask the client “which emotion are you looking for?” they might say “I want them to say ‘Oh that’s nice’ and from that I can mostly work on my own. I don’t need to tap into their creativity, I hardly have to ask them to change the way they work.

But those are small projects; on bigger projects, to create longer lasting experiences I prefer the team to be much more involved.

As I said before, an experience is something that feels unique. For example in a hotel, it can come from:

  • the look of the building
  • the style of the interior
  • the furniture
  • the view
  • the swimming pool and the other facilities
  • the size of the towels
  • the way the chocolate is laid down on your pillow
  • the look housekeeping gives you when you enter your room, from what the breakfast buffet is made of
  • the generosity you feel while negotiating check-in and check-out time
  • the freebees
  • the way the lights turn on as you walk in your room
  • the wording of the security, interdiction and welcome messages
  • the price of the video on demand services
  • the key ring or the sound the access card makes when it finally works
  • the way the toilet paper is folded.

… the possibilities are endless.

When it comes to creating a unique experience that will stick to the product with time and not just be an idea in a PowerPoint, I believe it is best to co-create, to work with housekeeping and ask them what they could do. When working with the Chef, I show them examples of what creates positives emotions with people, and ask them what they could do that would follow the same pattern, yet be different at the same time.

I call it collaborative innovation. We work in groups where employees in charge of different sections of the organization work. I call them Brain Trust Groups. We meet every three weeks, I show them examples, ask my questions and give them time to think about it. On the third meeting we start creating prototypes that we try to test with real users as soon as possible. We learn from our tests, listen to the comments and adapt.

Some evolutions are cheap and easy to maintain. Others are costly and require time. That’s okay.  It is a continuing process. As an Experience Designer, I always try to see if there is a way to work around points of frictions, problems, things that are usually costly and turn them into something that would be the source of ‘Woahhh!’. I also try to discover their natural brand DNA, what is already great about them, about the location, and see if we can boost it.

Some experiences are meant to stay fixed and never change. I’m thinking of the restaurant The Entrecôte in Paris. Every day at 11:30 am you can see the growing queue of customers waiting for the restaurant to open. They are famous for serving the best Entrecôte.  They only have one dish, waiters don’t even ask for what you want. They will only ask you if you like it rare, medium or well-cooked. Those don’t need to renew themselves, others do. For example, the W Hotels has a culture of change among its employees. On their bill envelope, they make the following promise: “Every time, a new experience” and they do.

My studies have led me to understand that when someone likes something they will want more of it… well what they really want is more of the same kind of surprise.  So when I work with clients, we establish a renewal calendar. That is particularly important for jokes on menus and ways dishes are served.

Of course a large part of my practice revolves around simple user testing, qualitative surveys and providing quantified data. I’m the kind of gal who puts emotions in Excel spreadsheets! Those studies are usually the source of recommendations. One of my clients who edits a website that has 11 million unique visitors a year, told me that the 200 employee organization had all the ideas, but that my approach on emotions helped them prioritize on what needed to be done.

That’s how far I’ve come since my Brussels epiphany. I’ve published four books, given three conferences and had a baby. The way I teach has been completely metamorphosized by my research. When it comes to developing new business, I struggle to talk to the right people. I think French people struggle to understand the word Experience, but it turns out they misunderstand the word Design as well. To them, a designer is a graphic designer, not someone who engineers concepts.

So I keep calm and carry on, gather data, conduct interviews, publish my books, increase my knowledge, improve my methodology as often as I can and wait for my next great project to happen. I’ve already worked on a project for Chanel, marketing cosmetics internationally, so I’m hopeful that the right people and the right projects will come.

My husband laughs every time someone asks me what I do at a dinner party. I used to spend a lot of time explaining it all. Now I just say: “I’m a consultant”. It was much more efficient to tell people “I’m a web specialist”, people knew which box to put me in.

The other day, I was talking to a lawyer and she told me: “you’re in marketing”.  And it bugged me. To me Experience Design is much more than just exposing the product to the market; it is about designing a product or a service that will trigger emotions and as a consequence word of mouth.  It is about finding the competitive edge and implementing it. That being said, I’m glad though, I have heard other people refer to me as “Miss Specialist in Emotions”.  It’s a good viral message.

Patricia Gallot-Lavallée is an Interaction Designer specializing in Designing for Emotions. She participates in the conception of products, services and communication strategies in order to help brands provoke “positive” emotions in their audience. She publishes her research on emotional design in series of books. Her first series is called J’adooore ‘six ingredients that create fans’.

Patricia is also a mobilized teacher at the Institute of Internet and Multimedia. She has a twelve year background in user experience and web strategy. Contact: Kenazart, Experience Designers

Publications available at

She blogs in French at

She’s pretty nice, you can contact her.