Emotions and Design – Mood Maps

via Steve Baty, I came across a post by Will Evans called Design Ethnography & Mood Maps. He touches on two of my favorite topics at the moment: ethnography and emotions in design. In particular, Will introduces the concepts of Mood Maps to record user emotions. In a nutshell, mood maps are about mapping the emotional states people have to phases of a process.

This is similar to what I recommend in what I call the Information Search Experience (ISX), which I presented at the IA Summit in Austin TX in 2004. See my presentation: Information Search Experience: Emotions in Information Seeking. Of course, I was focused on information seeking in my model, but the principle is the similar: uncover the different states of emotions people have and map them back to phases of a given process. Here are two publications where I also present this idea:

  • I’m Feeling Lucky: The Role of Emotions in Seeking Information on the Web,” Journal of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 57(6), 813-818 (April 2006).
  • Feeling Lucky? Emotions and Information Seeking,” interactions, v. XI.5 (September-October 2004).

I also present this very briefly in Designing Web Navigation. Here’s the excerpt from the end of Chapter 2:

Emotions in Information Seeking
Information seeking on the web, in particular, is an emotional experience. Unfortunately, confusion and uncertainty tend to dominate feelings of enthusiasm and optimism. For many web surfers, the joy of discovery and pride of learning can be rare feelings against a backdrop of frustration and a sense of being overwhelmed.
When discussing the emotions users have while finding information on the web, it is critical to look at common situations and states users are in. Here is where patterns in basic human information-seeking behaviors give rise to a framework for both evaluating and designing web-based search and navigation systems.

Information Search Process
A holistic approach to explaining the user’s experience in information seeking, the Information Search Process (ISP) is a model of searching for information with a difference: it takes emotions into account. Developed by Carol Kuhlthau, a professor at Rutgers University, the ISP has six stages:

  • Initiation – The user becomes conscious of a gap in knowledge. Feelings of uncertainty and apprehension are common, and the main task is to recognize a need for information.
  • Selection – Uncertainty often gives way to feelings of optimism and a readiness to begin searching. The task is to identify and select the topic to be investigated. Thoughts are forward-looking and attempt to predict an outcome.
  • Exploration – Feelings of uncertainty, confusion, and doubt return. A general inability to precisely express an information need commonly results in an awkward interaction with the search system.
  • Formulation – Rising confidence and decreasing uncertainty mark a turning point in the process. Forming a focus becomes the chief task as thoughts become clearer.
  • Collection – Interaction with the information system is most effective and efficient. Decisions about the scope and focus of the topic have been made and a sense of direction sets in. Confidence continues to increase.
  • Presentation – The goal now is to complete the search and fulfill the information need. A sense of relief is common, as well as satisfaction or dissatisfaction (in the case of a negative outcome). Thoughts center on synthesizing and internalizing what was learned.

Kuhlthau also observed a “dip” in confidence often seen after a seeker began looking for information and started to encounter overwhelming, perhaps conflicting information. This contradicts the previous assumption that confidence steadily increases as more information is found. A seeker “in the dip” can experience uncertainty, confusion, and even anxiety until a focus is formed or a search is broken off.

The existence of that dip suggests a gap between users’ natural information use and information system design. Acquiring more information in initial stages (particularly in Exploration) increases rather than decreases uncertainty. In terms of emotions, searching for information is a discontinuous endeavor with highs and low of confidence and certainty.

Tailoring the ISP
In an attempt to avoid the dip, you can use Kuhlthau’s theoretical model as the framework for navigation design, tailoring an ISP to reflect the actions, thoughts, and feelings for your site visitors. The steps are:

  1. Segment users and create profiles. An ISP only applies to a particular target group.
  2. Identify the information seeking stages and user goals for each. The established phases will serve as a starting point, but must be adapted.
  3. Record the typical feelings, thoughts, and actions at each stage.
  4. Map stakeholder goals to each stage. What is your organization trying to achieve and how does it fit in with the natural navigation process of users?
  5. Derive features and requirements for the site that map to each phase in the seeking process

This is best summarized in a large table. The columns are labeled Actions, Thoughts, Feelings, Features, and Business Goals. The rows are the stages in your tailored ISP.

About Jim Kalbach

Head of Customer Experience at MURAL


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