Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 7 of 31

We have arrived at one of the core parts of psychology. The part that makes your pupils big or small, tears flow down your face, your cheeks turn red, and more. Today, we learn about:



(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)


There is a lot of debate about emotions, among psychologists. I’m gonna skip all that. This lesson is already a little longer than most, because emotions are super important in UX design.

Instead — I give you the simplest practical model of emotions known to mankind:

1) There are two categories of emotions: gain and loss.

2) Emotions are reactions. Not goals.

3) Time makes emotions more complicated.


Gain & Loss

Emotions come in two flavors: good & bad. Positive & negative. Happy and unhappy. Pretty easy so far, right?

I call them gain and loss.

Gains give you positive feelings. You might feel refreshed after a good night’s sleep, or ecstatic after winning the lottery, or euphoric when your masseuse is a little more thorough than usual.

For now, just put them all in the same “happy” category. 

Losses give you negative feelings. You feel grumpy when you haven’t slept, or devastated after a breakup, or embarrassed when your masseuse turns out to be your cousin.

For now, just put them all in the same “unhappy” category. 


Emotions are reactions. Not goals.

If I locked you in a dark box that would make you feel happy, forever, and shot that box out into space, alone, with no communication, and you can’t move or control anything, would you consider that a good thing?

Hmmm… maybe not. If you only make users “happy” it’s like putting them in that box. 5 minutes from now… not so great.

There are two types of feelings: emotions and motivations. Motivations are what we want (goals), and emotions are how we feel when we gain or lose what we want (feedback).

As a UX designer: design a way to achieve the user’s goals and give them feedback so they can feel useful emotions.

Or you can just show them which flavour of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream they are, and call it a day. 


Time makes emotions more complicated

Our emotions (or your “mood”) change all the time. Within reason, that’s normal. If it’s extreme, you should probably see somebody about getting on reality television.

But it’s not all about here and now. We think in time. We remember the past and expect the future.

When you see a box wrapped in colourful paper, you think: gift!

When someone says “we need to talk” you think: shit.

The “gift” might be full of snakes, but you will be happy until you know that.

If you expect something bad to happen — like if the box is labelled “muthafuckin’ snakes!” — you feel fear (or “worry”, or “concern”… if it’s negative, it’s negative.). You will avoid it or try to escape. Unless you’re on a muthafuckin’ plane.

A more interesting emotion, in my opinion, is angerIf you want/expect something, but you can’t get it, you will get aggressive toward whatever is stopping you.

This is how emotions interact with time.

When someone says “we need to talk” your first reaction is probably fear. You want to keep your job or your relationship, or whatever you think they are going to destroy. But when they actually do try to destroy it, you might get aggressive. Now they are stopping you from having it. When they succeed, you’re sad (loss). If they change their mind, you’re happy (gain).


As a UX Designer: think about more than happiness. Manage the user’s feelings throughout their experience by giving them the information and signals they need to feel comfortable, and to understand how to reach their goals.


Tomorrow we will do the first of 4 lessons about the most powerful tool in your psychological arsenal: What are Motivations?