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Emotional experience of books: It’s not just the words that matter

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5th Mar 2012
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What can the emotional design of books teach us about customer experience management? Qaalfa Dibeehi explores.

Books provide an experience on at least two levels – the content in its pages and the pages themselves. Ask a book lover what so special about books and you will get an answer that speaks to the feel, smell and weight of a great book in the hand. Parents instinctively know about the emotional power of books when they select books for their children. The same emotional impact is important for us all. Robin Rendle recently wrote an interesting article for Smashing Magazine (“A Craft of Consequences: Reader, Writer and Emotional Design”) on the emotional design of books. In it she basically outlines the basic principles of customer experience design. 

As in all customer experience, the point is to make a connection with the customer, the reader in the case of a book. Where traditional marketing might be focused on the book jacket design to entice a potential reader, customer experience requires so much more. It requires the alignment of the full sensory experience including paper quality and density, use of white space and colour, printing method, width of margins, binding, and other typographic details. Rendle says that a system is required to better use these – non-content components into service to engage the reader. She say that “when the form and the idea become inseparable… unique relationships begin to form” between author and the reader. This is the point of customer experience -to engage the customer with the organisation in a very deep meaningful way that is inherently valuable to both parties.
So what of the experience in the digital age where by definition much of the sensory experience has become detached? Rendle states “It is the format, the texture, and the combination of the printed word and the weight of the object that ignites this special relationship, and aids in the transfer of information between writer and reader.
Ideally, these extra pieces of information provide the reader with the unspoken history, idea and argument of the book. Without them, the conversation between the book and the reader would be less interactive and engaging.” Just as in customer experience work, Rendle points out that each book should be treated as unique.
   
The problem in the digital experience is that the uniqueness of the book is not allowed to flourish. She says that in effect e-readers have dissected books into the mechanics of reading. The digital systems are barriers in their current states. Her point is not nostalgia based. It is based on the most effective method for conveying the full weight of the intended message by the author.  
The point in customer experience is to make the interaction as effective as possible. When that does not happen, wastage is the result. Waste in that (1) the customer does not get the full message and therefore is less likely to be loyal and (2) the organisation spends lots of money trying to connect but misses the mark. The answer, as Rendle will attest is to design the customer experience from the outset with the full emotional experience in mind. Rendle says the basic design question should be “How do these things make your feel”. This is exactly the sort of question Enlightened and Natural organisations ask as part of their business-as-usual.

Qaalfa Dibeehi is chief operating and consulting officer at Beyond Philosophy.

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