Quality is Better When You Feel Good

blue-brainHow you perceive quality is influenced by your expectations. And sometimes, your expectations are subconscious or emotionally driven.

For example, a product may have all the features you, as a consumer, could possibly want and need – and it might perform well too! But it still might not satisfy everyone, or generate the magnitude of sales that were originally projected. How could this be?

Understanding the psychology of quality and value, based on affect, provides insight into how this can happen. Merriam Webster’s Medical Dictionary defines affect as “the conscious subjective aspect of an emotion considered apart from bodily changes.” In short, affect describes how something makes you feel. For example, working on a task that you really enjoy promotes positive affect. Spending time with “de-energizers” who are negative, critical, and generally unhappy can create negative affect.

Research in psychology indicates that positive affect corresponds with the ability to solve problems more readily and effectively, while negative affect can impede problem solving, even for simple tasks. As a result, usability can be considered a function of the positive or negative affect that is generated when a user interacts with a product. This applies to all products, including software and web-based applications.

These studies also suggest that effective design translates to positive affect – meaning that before use, perceived quality and perceived value are more closely related to the perceived quality and value that will be experienced after use. Aesthetics thus play a role in promoting positive affect. As interpreted by Don Norman (2004) in Emotional Design, where many of the aforementioned studies are referenced,

the emotional system changes how the cognitive system operates… [it is] easier for people to find solutions to the problems they encounter… [there is a] tendency to repeat the same operation over again is especially likely for those who are anxious or tense.”

An entertaining example is the ATM case, which I’ll write about tomorrow.


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