Hello there! My name is Marco Gervasio and this is a collection of stories about how interaction design, digital marketing, visual design, and social media can come together to create powerful programs and platforms for a meaningful customer experience. Feel free to reach out to me:



A New Breed Of Heuristics – Rational vs. Emotional

Measuring the efficiency and reliability of products has been performed by the industrial design industry for many decades. This notion of evaluating goods for their ability to deliver satisfaction started to be applied in the world of digital marketing some time in the 90’s. We have to thank Jacob Nielsen for introducing us, the Internet up-and-comers, to the idea of accountability. Back in the day, digital pioneers were so anxious to get something out on this World Wide Web throbbing with infinite possibilities but were oblivious and too fast at times and delivered ineffective applications.

Nowadays, we are certainly more responsible. We are more mature in our approach and will question our decisions early on in the process of modeling tailored solutions for our clients. But how do we go about deciding what his best? Intuition? I certainly hope not (although sometimes it does work). In reality, we spend many hours searching for insights, or clues for the truth, the undeniable answer to a challenge thrown at us by a client. Conducting a solid discovery phase is a good way to start the strategic and creative process. It provides the necessary foundation for the development of a successful program or platform. But we shouldn’t stop there. Measuring the overall quality of our solutions need to continue throughout the process.

Fundamentally heuristics form a scale, a set of criteria or guidelines that we should aspire to. These standards provide us with sanity checkpoints, to make sure we are heading in the right direction. But heuristics, if you search for them online, are all over the place. We still don’t have a shared set of standards in our industry. Nielsen tried to do that but unfortunately his heuristics outdated years ago mainly because they focused on usability only, or the rational side of things. The reality is people often make decisions based on emotions, their overall sentiment vis-à-vis a service, product, brand, or person. The biggest error Nielsen did was to think all people need is a user-friendly interface to complete tasks successfully.

Studies have shown that interactive experiences that offer a less efficient experience (not necessarily unusable) but fulfill emotional needs like encouragement or inspiration can be more successful in terms of making customers complete a task like a purchase. Those solutions that do it well take into account in equal proportions rational and emotional needs. It works because that’s how humans go about life. We look at things or analyze situations always with 2 analytical layers, sometimes unconsciously. There are moments when we will be more on the emotional side, and sometime we will be very rational in our decision, but both layers are always there and we need to measure every aspect of our solutions that way.

A few years back I had attempted at establishing a news set of heuristics that would tap into the emotional layer. I had analyzed 15 sets of heuristics from various sources, some more known than others, and tried to find commonalities as well as unique differentiators. In the end, there were many differences and none took into account emotions. This outcome really made me want to change things. My first stab at identifying more current heuristics was definitely on the right track. I had included criteria about the impact of a product or service in people’s lives (value and felt meaning) and the overall appeal, which influences perception (this means an ugly interface can affect the desire to complete a task).

It was also a time when other experts in the industry were starting to realize that people are not robot and have feelings, and that we needed to evaluate products on a human scale. I even got a call from a Forrester analyst who was curious about the new phenomenon and wanted to gather the opinions of various professionals.

While our industry is still waiting for optimized heuristics that balance the emotional and rational planes, it is easy to add a few more to your current list, some that can evaluate how users feel throughout their experience, such as:

- Confidence
- Inspiration
- Motivation
- Delight
- Security
- Etc.

These could form an additional column in my table (see related post), one that would truly focus on positive feelings (the category could be labeled Spirit or Sentiment). If measured at several milestones, they sort of become a mood barometer, a curve indicating changing feelings during a customer journey.

Heuristics are not only criteria used by experts during assessments. They should be reminders or guidelines we refer to when defining and designing application and programs. They can really help us create better experiences.


Marco Gervasio



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