12 Jul 18

Getting Emotional about User Experience

Globally-recognized UX/UI expert Jacob Greenshpan shares how feelings can boost startups at dtac accelerate

This is a guest post by Dr. Jacob Greenshpan, one of the world’s leading user experience experts. He has over 20 years of experience launching startups and advising them at prestigious accelerators such as Google Launchpad and, most recently, dtac accelerate.

  • Startups often fail to put themselves in the shoes of their customers, what Dr. Greenshpan calls the “alien exercise.”
  • Beyond the mechanics of a user interface, Dr. Greenshpan is now increasingly focused on how apps make their users feel.
  • Emotions, just like other aspects of the user experience, can be measured and quantified to ensure apps meet their objectives.

User experience (UX) and user interface (UI) are, at the most basic level, the way we interact with machines. The discipline dates back to the first computers built during World War II. But in recent years, I’ve shifted my focus to the emotional aspect of these interactions. In an increasingly crowded marketplace of digital services, how an app makes you feel can be 10 times more important than what it does.

For example, why do people use instant messaging instead of SMS? It’s not the price. SMS are practically free with most packages now. But SMS don’t provide a sense of belonging. Messaging gives you that sense of intimacy, a sense that people are thinking of you. Functionality is important but the emotion is really the key, here.


Although this was my first time holding a UX/UI workshop in Thailand, the startups at dtac accelerate share similar challenges with other launchpads. They are not getting out to meet their users enough--or not at all. How can your customers understand your product if you don’t understand how they feel using your app?

To bridge that gap, I play what I call the “alien exercise.” Imagine you’re an alien. Get into the head of someone who doesn’t know your application and map the “happy path” of their intended interactions with that application. Write down the information the customer needs to know at every step of the way. I’ll often see the people I coach go into shock when they realize just how much they assumed their customers know about their product.

This gap is particularly lethal as a startup. Startups don’t have the level of trust a big corporation does. If a big company asks for my credit card number, I’m fine giving it to them. If my local restaurant asks for those details over the phone so they can deliver a pizza to my place, I’m fine with that too. Never mind that my credit card details are now on a post-it on a kitchen counter somewhere. But if a startup asks for your email the first time you open their app, you will just uninstall it.

To avoid that, you need to tell people exactly what is going on. Tell them the discount is after the email sign-up, for instance. Startups need to know exactly where they are losing customers and then find out why. It’s not difficult. There are free tools that show you exactly where people are dropping off.


While the methodology behind UX/UI has not necessarily changed, I have developed a new level of focus on emotions in recent years. Here at dtac accelerate, I provided a half-day workshop on emotional design. It’s hugely important that users not only get what they wanted but feel happy about getting it.

You can design emotions, they can be measured and they can be analyzed. Think about wording, for example. If you complete a transaction, would you rather be told “OK” or “You made it”? That kind of difference can be A/B tested.

When I’m talking about emotion, it’s not about manipulation. It’s not about creative compulsive behaviors like gambling. You must design in a good honest way. But you must also overcome that trust deficit. If you want customers to use your service, it’s all about creating confidence. That is why emotions matter.


Teaching emotional design at dtac accelerate has been a great experience. The selection process at dtac accelerate is very tough. As a result, the startups here are full of highly intelligent people. You don’t have to tell them anything twice. I give them an technique in one meeting, they’ve executed it in the next meeting. They don’t sit around and plan. They get it done.

I really enjoy that: giving them the tools and then seeing how they progress through a few iterations. But I hardly design for them. I just explain the rationale. That’s what I call giving them hooks, not fish.

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