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Emotional Design, Affective Computing and Social Animals

When I see Dan Saffer and Gabby Hon posting long lists of books they've read in 2011, I sink a bit and sigh longingly. Despite my rampant Instapaper-ing, I simply don't make enough time to read long-form content.

I did make it through one book last year, though, and it really stuck with me: The Social Animal by David Brooks. As a developer who's transitioned into design, I made my way through a self-guided crash course in interaction design, visual design and the like, but moving "up the stack" into understanding emotion was uncharted territory. Luckily, Brooks' book made the topic very approachable, since it's written as an allegory.

The Social Animal has many insights, but this is the one I keep revisting: every piece of sensory input a human being receives will evoke an intellectual and an emotional response. The takeaway is that you can fold this into your personal interactions and benefit, or ignore this at your peril.

Interesting stuff, right? But how do we use this knowledge to make our designs better?

Here Comes The Knowledge

Three separate pieces of work have crossed my path that address this topic:

  • Designing For Emotion by Aaron Walter is the quintessential guide. Simply put, I don't think we'd be talking about this without Aaron's work.
  • Affective Computing by Kristina Höök is a more academic take on the topic that reviews the relevant research. It's deep stuff made more approachable with video interviews.
  • Grouped by Paul Adams focuses on the social angle with discussions of influence and how ideas spread between people. Some of the same concepts are in this slide deck, so you can start there to get a sense for the thinking that shaped Paul's work with Google+ and Facebook.

So, What Now?

Have I synthesized all this into a Unified Theory of Human Computing? Um, not quite yet. But I think the sheer amount of activity around these concepts tells us we'll need to fold them into our design practices—where there's smoke, there's fire.

For now, I have all this stuff on my reading list, which I promise I'll get to very soon.

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