Drunk usability testing is an old User Experience (UX) industry joke. The idea that ‘in vino, veritas’ might be leveraged to discover new insights into user behaviour.

The problem is that the joke devalues the real need for emotion in design and testing. By making the joke, it makes the idea laughable.

This is a problem for the long term health of the industry. Trying to ignore emotion is trying to ignore the humanity of users.

Emotions are complex

UX seems unwilling to face up to emotion in design because it all seems messy and complex. What this ignores is that there are ways of breaking down emotion into usable chunks in the design and testing processes.

Here is an example of Emotion in a Design Sprint.

The emotional elements of design are divided into 3 parts:

  • Emotion
  • Feelings of Emotion

This enables

  • Unde
  • Meaning
  • Analysis
  • Review


Empathy is hard but it is essential to underlying user intents and thus needs.

Using empathy in the Understanding and Testing stages of a Design Sprint is important for product development. Without it, professionals design at users rather than with them.


Emotions are part of the human system of meaning making.

Emotions coat sensory experiences to rapidly show the importance of certain experiences.

Emotions also constrict cognition. Emotional people sometimes cannot make the ‘right’ decision because they cannot think of it.

Emotion needs to be part of the ideation and prototyping process in order to access theses two points. The product cannot work if it fails to embed emotion within it.

Feelings of Emotion

Finally, in the Iteration stage, it is time to step back and let feelings swell.

Probably, the most underrated emotional system, feelings are part of the iterative learning system of emotions. The edge of conscious and unconscious recognition of emotions and their effect upon how the user acted.

This ‘step back’ stage allows iteration of the product and also enables the user to clarify the meaning and usability of a product.

Connecting Emotion

I am already running Connecting Conversation workshops on senses, meaning and design but I’d love to run a different workshop on emotion and design using these concepts.

Only through understanding ourselves can we successfully understand users.

Use empathy, emotion and feelings as a practice of design self-reflection to build better products and services.

Let me know if you’d like to try.

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

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