The Emotional Internet of Things: How to Design for It

Today, our online experience has been more personalized. From the many social media platforms, search engines, and different websites, technology has been smart in giving us what we want. And by mixing two different branches of science, we are now on the verge of having a much deeper connection with the internet.


Technology is a branch of knowledge that deals with engineering or applied science. It focuses more on machinery and development for practical purposes. While the scientific study involving the human mind and its function, which relates to the mental behavior and emotional characteristics of a person or group is Psychology. It is a branch of science that deals with human intellect.


By combining both studies, the internet can now have the capability to tap into a person’s intuition. This is what we call personalization algorithms. It is a process wherein calculations, problem-solving operations, and rules to be followed specifically for computers are altered to meet the needs of the customers, and in this case their emotional needs.


Personalization algorithm provides a much more direct path to your attention and focuses on the things you like to see. It creates a filter bubble, comprising website algorithms selectively guessed based on the user’s information such as location, search history, and past click behavior.


A filter bubble has its own advantages and disadvantages. It traps users in a way that they don’t get exposure to information that could challenge or widen their point-of-view. On the other hand, it offers a straight path to what the user needs as of the moment.


The psychology of the process involves your behavior and emotions. And in today’s technology, emotions are one of the integral factors when we use our devices. By simply using Facebook’s reaction that evokes emotions such as happy, sad, angry, and love is now part of our online emotional vocabulary.


As time passes, emotion-sensing technology advances from its trial phase to reality. Emotion tracking apps like Moodnotes are used not only to understand one’s behavior but also to convert them into something that will drive positive behavior. Others like Feelwristband and Zensorium Being use detectors to monitor skin temperature, heartbeat, and even maps good stress from bad to detect emotion in a limited manner.


Now there are home devices such as Emospark that create a profile based on the user’s word of choice, facial recognition, and voice analysis. Its sensor detects emotions and then the device will use those components to deliver music, videos, and other multimedia according to your mood. This makes our experience with technology aside from being enjoyable, but also utterly real.


We can say that artificial intelligence is now reaching the human’s emotional realm through the personalization algorithm. Surely, technology is hyping up its level in terms of shaping the user experience. But what does it mean in terms of designing for technology?



Even algorithms need design for it to work more accurately. A design is needed for devices to provide an emotion-sensing experience. Algorithms input the data and the set of rules to become an output or an experience. Designers, on the other hand, are in charge of screening the inputs brought by algorithms in terms of obscurity, sensitivity, and context. The output is a set of interactions or experiences, involving either screen tapping or voice recognition.


As time goes by, emotionally perceptive devices will develop, and interactions may surpass any conversational app we currently have. The challenge now to designers is how to get devices further get in touch with emotions since emotion is an essential part of the personalization process. The next generation of emotion-sensing technology should stimulate and project emotions into each category:

  1. Self-discovery – Giving time to ponder on our experience and improve on the things that make us happy is good for us. On the other hand, reflecting on negative emotions may cause unwanted stress and agitation, or worse, mental illnesses. Because of these, it is just natural for us to make ourselves better; and it will open a tendency that we may want to design our lives by tracking our emotions, handling stress, and disengaging from the things that would trigger negative emotions on us. Studies show that tracking your health, both physical and mental, is becoming necessary. Products such as smartwatches are being developed for these kinds of purposes.
  2. Unveiling Yourself to Others – Emotionally intelligent technology is now breaking barriers in terms of connecting with others in real time. Snapchat is one of the most widely used apps today. It is a great example of a technology that lets its users share a significant moment to their loved ones and see their emotional reactions. This kind of app offers a precise and subtle way to connect with others emotionally. Sharing is one thing, screening is another. Context and history should be considered when designing for emotionally intelligent technology. These kinds of apps should also be able to filter what should and should not be shared.
  3. Emotion-based Recommendation – Emotionally intelligent technology enables us to be mindful of our emotions and of how we transcend those emotions to others. The next step is to have an analysis based on your emotions for better recommendations. Pplkpr is offering this kind of service by asking users how they feel and matches it with the user’s physiological traits such as heart rate and breathing.  After the assessment, Pplkpr then gives the user a precise recommendation if certain people they know causes them stress or helps them be calm. It can also suggest to unfriend, avoid, block, and even delete a certain contact if it is determined to be bad for you. On the flip side, the app also suggests the user to send messages or schedule a bonding time with people who make you feel better.
  4. More human-like interaction – The moment devices learned to scan emotions, it opened an opportunity to communicate to their users based on the emotions given to them. Many apps like Siri are created to enhance user experience with their devices. But as helpful and pleasurable as it is, communicating with technology doesn’t seem to reach the level of how humans speak with each other. Emotionally intelligent robots only learn and show emotion in the simplest way. Other emotionally intelligent robots are used by companies not only because they are popular but also to provide a better customer service experience. One perfect example of this is Pepper, also known as the “social companion for humans.” The robot responds to human “emotional signifiers”, such as laughter and frowning, and based on those data, the robot responds to the users and generates communication that is very much similar to a human person.

All these possibilities offer a great challenge to the designers of today. Designing a device that collects data, plots emotion, and then transcend emotion in various manners needs a great collaboration between algorithms designers and experience designers. It will also open a change in perception of emotional design as the technology’s sensitivity to emotion develops.



Following these practices will lead you much closer to designing for more emotionally intelligent technology.

  1. Simple Friction – Yes, it is the designer’s job to make things easier that is why they strive for simplicity. But in order to achieve experience, a little friction is needed. Designers should come up with a design that would completely engage users and their emotions. Research about affective computing could provide more information on how designers could possibly achieve this.
  2. Pre-experience and Re-experience – Customers’ experience with their devices has its own ups and downs. And mostly those experiences can easily be embedded in their memory especially for in-the-moment apps and in-app experience. The challenge for designers is to understand and handle the anticipation of the user. How to take one experience to another level is also a challenge to them since frequent usage of the technology could yield the same emotional result if the experience provided by the device doesn’t change.
  3. Sensory Experience – Designers should create sensors that detect emotion based not only in the façade, such as text messages, images, and social media posts. Unfortunately, those bases don’t accurately match the things that are running in our heads. Designers should be inspired to the other senses of the human body where they can identify emotions.
  4. Emotional Dictionary – As human emotion is being adapted to the internet, designers should accept that emotion is broad and complex. They shouldn’t settle with simple descriptions like happy and sad. Creating in-depth terminology for every emotional nuance is important. This will help them create a more cohesive design of what a person specifically feels, what mood they are in, and what could happen.
  5. Empathy – No one but the user can say if the design is working or not. It is best for the designers to put themselves into the shoes of their customers to see if the technology they’re creating will work. Empathizing involves a new level of ethnographic research and brainstorming for a design. The objective of empathizing is to be inspired by real-life moments of the individuals – from their culture and everything that is connected to them – and bringing them from their reality to a created reality made by a personalized algorithm with the help of emotion-sensing devices.
  6. Unity of Human and Machine – The challenge here is to bring artificial intelligence to something remotely close to the human trait. Designers who integrate empathy into their design can have the ability to bridge the two sides. Connecting the two will be an indicator of the advancement of emotion-sensing technology. One problem in bridging the human and machine is that people often change. Emotions aren’t a problem; the problem is that people are complicated and often confusing. A balance of machine logic associated in a much human way is what we need, which concludes that an emotion-sensing device highly needs a human designer.

The designer’s role will be more significant as they adapt and be one step ahead of the development of human nature. Designers should focus on broadening the range of emotions and senses that are integral parts of the design since they are the one that creates features and experiences so people will be engaged. Putting substance and profundity will create a stronger bond between humans and technology.