It’s easy to focus on the big picture—so much so that we often lose track of small details that make a whole world of difference, especially in the design process. Seasoned industrial designer Joey Zeledón has taken a step back from this natural tendency to focus on emotional ergonomics in his new book, Touchy/Feely. Touchy/Feely is not only a call to action for designers to consider and understand small but common human to product interactions, but it also isolates and defines a key part in the design process that falls between research and prototyping.
Zeledón’s grey and yellow “touchy” illustrations consistently take you back to feelings I guarantee (or, at least hope) you’ve experienced before—like putting on deodorant or eating a sandwich—and the “feelies” listed on each adjacent page read like strangely relatable poems. On top of all that, it’s fun coffee table book and/or nighttime read. We had a brief discussion with Zeledón, during which he went into detail on what emotional ergonomics are and when they should be considered:
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C77: Can you tell me a little more about your industrial design background and why you felt writing Touchy/Feely was important?
JZ: I have had quite a diverse background in the world of industrial design. I started out designing footwear for Clarks Originals and Banana Republic, spent 8 years in consulting with Continuum and Smart Design designing for a lot of different industries, and am now focused on designing healthcare spaces and furniture at Steelcase. And, the common thread in all of my work has been emotional storytelling. The way I see it, Touchy/Feely is the culmination of that thread, and a way to share that process with others on how to tap into the human psyche. We always talk about designing for humans, and I see focusing on the emotional needs of people as fundamental to that.
How long have you been working on Touchy/Feely?
The idea of Touchy/Feely was first conceived when I was working at Continuum in Boston in 2010. I was designing a product where, at the core, what we were trying to do was make people less fearful of using a particular product and build trust. And, we did that by looking for cues in other experiences. So, I started drawing gestures of interactions with different experiences and thinking about the emotions tied to them. I found this exercise so helpful, so it became a regular practice in all of my design work, and Touchy/Feely was born.
I was thinking of ways to get this idea out into the world and to really pilot it, and I always had a book in the back of my mind. But, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I decided to start piloting the idea on Instagram to see if it had an audience beyond me. I’ve been posting different Touchies and asking “What’s Your Feely?” It has seemed to resonate with a cult following of design nerds like me. Then, about six months ago, my partner Martelle encouraged me to finally put it all into print with a selection of Touchies and Feelies poetry, and we’ve been working on it together ever since.
How do you personally define “emotional ergonomics” and what it means in the design process?
Essentially, it’s a fancy way to say how you feel when you interact with things. As a designer, tapping into peoples’ emotions is so important. It can help you create designs that not only address physical needs but emotional ones as well.
How did you research and narrow down the Touchies you decided to publish? There are endless possibilities!
I have an arsenal of these drawings from over the years. In this book, I wanted to show a cross section of Touchies loosely based on a day in the life. Some are gender or age specific, but many are more universal experiences. Intentionally, some are mundane everyday interactions while others have more extreme emotional associations. It was very difficult to down-select to just 100. I was even coming up with more ideas for future drawings as I was trying to narrow down my list. But, eventually, I decided I wanted to find a selection that many people could relate to and that were thought provoking. That said, I have many more Touchies and Feelies up my sleeve.
Why do you feel it’s so important for designers to consider the smaller interactions we have with objects on a daily basis?
“You have to really understand the rules about what’s familiar before you can break them in a meaningful way.”
Humans do many of these small everyday interactions mindlessly as muscle memory. When you take time to reflect and dissect them, you start to see them in different ways. There are behavioral patterns that we have across seemingly very different interactions, and there is opportunity to leverage some of these patterns for emotion-driven design. For example, if you take a look at the envelope Touchy and the Sandwich Touchy, the gestures are very similar. So, perhaps if you are designing an envelope, you could explore designing the adhesive to taste like a pastrami sandwich. Does this make the experience better or worse? I don’t know. You have to really understand the rules about what’s familiar before you can break them in a meaningful way.
How have you incorporated Touchy/Feely into your design work? During what stages of the design process do you think it’ll come in handy most for other designers?
I’ve applied Touchy Feely on most of my projects. One example is a project I worked on while I was at Smart Design. We designed a new drinking experience for Pepsi-Co’s Drinkfinity brand. The tangible elements consisted of a vessel to be filled with tap water and a juice concentrate in the form of a pod. The feeling we wanted to elicit in the interaction was the satisfaction of squeezing a fresh piece of fruit, so we mimicked that exact gesture in the Drinkfinity experience. I think the most useful time for using Touchy-Feely in design is after you have done a little bit of research on the target audience and know what drives them, what their needs are, and how you can tap into their emotional narrative. It’s a great tool for ideation.