Emotional Design

By Mark Nuyens
6 min. read🎨 Software Design

In the sphere of product development, a multitude of factors contribute to the creation of a successful product: a dedicated team, effective leadership, and abundant resources. However, I'd like to discuss one fundamental aspect that often goes unnoticed -- the capacity to acknowledge and comprehend the users of a product, or in other words, the application of social intelligence. Commonly known as interpersonal intelligence, this ability empowers individuals to listen, understand, and answer the needs of others, both functionally and emotionally. It's akin to painting a vivid portrait of others, capturing their unique characteristics and behaviors that stand out the most. The resulting product or service, designed in response to this portrait, caters to the user's interests and meets their fundamental demands and expectations.

I've recently been extensively using Postman, a tool for managing, testing and documenting APIs and related web technologies. Designing such a product is a challenging task, considering the various methods of structuring a code base. The product must provide necessary tools while staying out of the way of existing practices. What astonishes me is how accurately the software responds to my expectations, despite being used by a wide range of companies like Stripe and Paypal. This indicates the diligent attention paid to ensuring a smooth learning curve, facilitating beginners and experts alike in defining their requirements. In my view, such precision can only be achieved by understanding their users.

The success of Postman, in my opinion, is attributable to their competent team who personally use, reflect and enhance the product over time. It's the team members that spend a considerable amount of time evaluating and reiterating the product while staying engaged with their community. To me it looks like they truely understand their users and apply the same emotional intelligence I mentioned earlier. The role of their team leaders is to take these experiences into account while implementing new features or adjust behavior, effectively creating a blend of emotional, rational and technical skills. This balancing is one that relies on trust and discipline while each team member carefully contributes their part according to dynamic requirements.

The journey to a successful product or service isn't a straightforward path of user research and checking items off a list. In fact, I would argue there is a potential pitfall in this traditional approach: when trying to appease all users, this may lead to a product that eventually pleases none. Instead, it involves considerable human reflection, personal experience, and the ability to empathize. This responsibility shouldn't merely rest on designers or those who theoretically fit the role but perhaps lack practical experience. While User Experience (UX) Design may seem the obvious choice, the role shouldn't be confined to research alone. The primary concern should be the perspective of the end user, and only those who can comprehend, filter, interpret, and transform this emotional data into practical functionality can truly succeed.

Many successful products were originally conceived to solve a problem the designer personally faced. They didn't merely target a niche market and hoped for the best. It's often those who are closest to the people "in the battlefield" who can truly discern and deliver what's needed. Being an exceptional programmer isn't sufficient to release a product or service that resonates with its target audience. More is required to mold this implementation model into a design that aligns with the user's mental model. From my experience, such skill is rare, but at Postman, they certainly seem to have it in abundance.

P.s. I did not get paid for writing about Postman, I just love their software. 😉