Emotional Design with A.C.T

Session Title

Emotional Design with A.C.T


Trevor Van Gorp, Affective Design Inc.

Session Type: Presentation

As user experience professionals, we strive to provide our clients and
users with products that are useful, usable and pleasurable. Because these
criteria encompass a broad range of human experience, from the conscious
and practical (i.e. useful) to the interactive and social (i.e. usable)
and the sensory and unconscious (i.e. pleasurable), this is no small task.
It means that along with creating experiences that fulfill clients’
business needs and the needs of users, it’s also necessary to understand
the emotional and psychological frameworks for users’ sensory, social and
practical experiences.

Understanding these frameworks is no small feat. If you’ve been attempting
to incorporate emotional or affective design principles into your design
or UX practice, you’ve likely encountered a number of different models,
processes and methodologies. Each one describes the practice in its own
jargon, with its own rules and from its own perspective. Practitioners are
often left wondering, “where do I start?”

Most of these models are descriptive rather than prescriptive. They
provide a foundation for understanding emotional design by describing
aspects of the design and/or experience process from a particular
perspective, but don’t prescriptively guide designers as to HOW to create
rewarding social and emotional experiences for users.

UX professionals understand that intuitive labeling can make or break the
usability of a design. But what about the language in a design model?
Leveraging the power of prescriptive and usable language, the A.C.T. model
is a meta-model that helps guide designers in creating rewarding social
and emotional experiences.

A.C.T. stands for Attract, Converse, Transact. The simplicity of the
language used for the stages in this model makes it much easier for
designers to communicate their rationale to business stakeholders.

Learn what features of a design unconsciously attract the attention of
your users.

Learn how human social rules apply when people react with objects and

Learn what makes your users decide to complete transactions with your

Session attendees will gain insight into applying emotional and affective
design principles by exploring how to address each stage of the A.C.T.
model through a number of examples.


Trevor van Gorp is the founder and principal of Affective Design Inc., an independent user experience consultancy. Formerly a consultant at nForm User Experience, a leading Canadian user experience firm, he has been working in design and visual communication since 1994.

Trevor is involved in user research, usability testing, information architecture, interaction design, prototyping and visual design. His design process includes insights drawn from the disciplines of art, graphic design, industrial design, ergonomics, human factors and cognitive psychology, helping clients to realize their business goals while enhancing the user’s experience. Trevor holds a BFA in Graphic Design and a Master’s of Environmental Design in Industrial Design.


  1. Posted September 21, 2009 at 5:22 pm

    So what does A.C.T. stand for?

  2. Posted September 21, 2009 at 6:24 pm

    Good question!
    The A.C.T. model is short for:

    It unites other perspectives and provides a broad, holistic framework for UX professionals to address the various levels of projects/products.

  3. Posted September 22, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    This is great. I think you’re going to have a lot of interested parties who want to have some real tactical points on how to actualize these frameworks.

    If you can do a very general flow from context –> framework –> strategy –> tactics I think this will be a huge success!

  4. Pam Nicholls
    Posted September 22, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    you are a very good writer; very well written, everything was easy to understand and appropriate for your audience.

  5. Posted September 22, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    Curious what you have in mind. I’d like to see this presentation.

  6. Yvonne Shek
    Posted September 23, 2009 at 11:07 am

    Would love to see this prez – esp examples for application!

  7. Posted September 23, 2009 at 11:15 am

    I think this would have a lot of value. It is important to explain to people how a frame work operates, why, and how to use it. Not so much about what you can do and then the finished product.

  8. Posted September 23, 2009 at 11:38 am

    This will obviously be a high-level approach to A.C.T.
    What I’d personally like to see, would the the hands-on approach to this tact.
    Mr. Trevor, I believe you’re the man to do it.

  9. Lindsay Ellerby
    Posted September 23, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    This looks really interesting Trevor! I love the “doing” nature of it because I think we talk about this type of stuff a lot but then don’t often know how to “do” it.

    The applicability of this framework will bring a lot of value to the participants, I’m sure.

  10. Posted September 25, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Trevor has been thinking, writing, and presenting about emotional design for a long time. He’s also currently writing a story for Boxes and Arrows on this particular topic, and as his editor I have a some insight into the ideas behind this presentation. I think this would make a great presentation, and would be very useful for the Interaction10 audience. I look forward to seeing it!

  11. Posted September 25, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    I’d love to see this presentation– I’ve heard just a bit about Trevor’s ACT model and would love to know more (I still reference his IA Summit presentation from a few years back). Knowing Trevor, he has some solid, refined thinking that I’m sure we’ll all find very useful to both project work and to help frame our conversations!

  12. Posted September 26, 2009 at 9:50 pm

    Trevor is most definitely on to something of extraordinary value. Applying some of what people might consider to be advertising’s secret sauce to interaction design is on the cutting edge of design thinking. This should be interesting AND useful.

  13. Posted September 28, 2009 at 7:57 am

    Sounds great! I like seeing the psychological and emotional sides being addressed and as someone involved with, but far from an expert in UX, would be really interested in see a more perscriptive approach to it all!

  14. Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

    I’ve chatted with Trevor about the ACT model before, and think that Attract / Converse / Transact could all use a one-sentence explanation here, to make the submission clearer, and let people know why they should attend this session.

  15. Michelle Fernandes
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 2:54 pm

    This could be the concept that will trancend the different forms of design. I am an interior designer and believe that a full understanding of the emotional and social response to design will take a client from a programmatic concept through to a wholistic and successful design solution. If there is a model that is more prescriptive, I would love to see this be described in a way that could be integrated into design practice, regardless of which design you may practice.

  16. Posted September 30, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks for the comments everyone. I appreciate your feedback!

  17. Posted October 1, 2009 at 2:43 pm

    I’m curious if a prescriptive model is the right approach and if it leads to orthodox ways of thinking.

    We are in early days of intentionally creating emotional experiences for the type of work that most of us do. Would a discussion of the comparative merits of the descriptive models be better? Do we want to favour a prescriptive model vs. experimentation with a variety of approaches to learn which are most effective at being affective?

    Thanks for asking for my feedback, Trevor. I hope it helps

  18. Posted October 1, 2009 at 4:00 pm

    I think you raise a really good point and I appreciate your thoughts. Some of these models come from industrial design, where they’ve been employed for some time.

    Rather than debating whether one particular model has more relative merit than another, my approach has been to compare a number of models to see what it is they all have in common, and then to express those commonalities in more prescriptive language.

    It appears to me that one of the main factors which has limited the adoption of these models by practitioners is the highly academic and descriptive language used by their creators. We’re all familiar with the large gains that can be made by using more intuitive language and labeling, and that what I’ve tried to do here.

    I believe this area is so complex that even a more prescriptive model isn’t likely to force practitioners into orthodox ways of thinking or a cookie-cutter approach.

  19. Dennis Breen
    Posted October 1, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    This sounds great Trevor. I appreciate Kaleem’s concerns about being prescriptive, especially given the history of from-the-mountaintop usability rules. However, I think that simply addressing how to do something in a practical sense has great value.

    We all know that there are many different ways to prototype or user test or cardsort. But when you’re first learning new concepts you need a starting point – a practical anchor.

    And orthodox thinking is probably more about the individual than how a method is described.