In design school you learn that the best way to understand your user is to hang out with them for a day and observe. Typically we observe actions and understand emotion through commentary. We take pictures of their spaces and watch what users/ consumers do with their objects and how they interact with their surroundings. A new article posted on PSFK’s trend watching website is making me think that product designers, makers, and watchers are missing a huge piece of the puzzle - facial expression.
PSFK’s article describes a group of “engineers in the UK [who] are working on a ‘fear detector’ that will make amusement park rides tailored to the level of excitement riders want to experience.” (http://www.psfk.com/2009/03/using-bio-feedback-to-customise-amusement-park-rides.html ). The blurb goes on to say that they are capturing rider’s facial expression to understand how to better provoke fear and delight. Could this tool prove useful in the product design world? As a consumer research technique perhaps? Maybe the future of successful products is not rooted within the encoded opinions and foreign spaces of consumers, but in our subconscious, instinctual human emotions.
It humors me to find this research method thrown into the product world in the category of amusement park rides, but apparently the recession is causing those who prey on our chemical happiness levels to dig a bit deeper into their creative pockets. Although let’s not forget the pioneers of the facial recognition technique or its professional implementers: cops, lawyers, soldiers, and even your local airport security worker. Currently their focus is looking for liars, cheaters, and terrorists but there is something valuable in knowing it’s a skill that can be taught and honed. Maybe a skill us designers should look into, because we all know actions speak louder than words, and words these days are easily influenced by media advertisement. Sooner or later we will only know what we read at our computers at home at night.
In the mean time start watching the show Lie to Me, on FOX wednesday prime time, to learn your facial recognition techniques. The show features an agency that is hired to solve cases of all kinds through their expert knowledge of facial expression recognition and emotion. If you find yourself having a hard time connecting through words and preferring to stare at your coworkers, friends and family members then you are probably learning something. However, I would suggest only using this technique for research or you might start seeming antisocial.