Making things click – when IT design meets user perception and emotion
The statistics are damning – over 90% of costs related to Information Technology development are incurred in the post-implementation phase, often due to inappropriate design.
As a result, introducing new computer-based platforms within firms is more than ever a balancing act between presenting something that pushes the right technical buttons and convincing workers of the usefulness and user-friendliness of the tool in question. IT may seem a purely functional aspect of working life, but the emotional response of users must be taken into account to ensure that IT budgets are spent wisely.
Whilst Information Systems may not appear the most emotionally-charged of issues impacting business performance, inducing the right reaction from employees to new tools and platforms rather than simply imposing new technologies makes increasing business sense. Previous research into this complex psychological/corporate issue has sought to identify and understand notions of aesthetics, satisfaction, motivation, and enjoyment in order to ascertain what makes a successful IT project. However, considering emotions themselves (both positive and negative) rather than interpretations of emotions and how workers’ perception of IT tools can generate emotions that will either encourage or discourage them to embrace new technologies provides a hitherto unexplored angle for understanding how to make computer technology click in the workplace.
Perceiving Usefulness and Ease of Use
Previous research into how users accept and continue to work with IT has concentrated primarily on perception. In 1989 the Technical Acceptance Model emerged as a means of explaining the cognitive process gone through, especially in terms of the opinion that users form of how user-friendly a tool may be (or “Perceived Ease of Use”, as it is known) and how usefully it can be applied in the workplace (“Perceived Usefulness”).
Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin are prime examples of tools that are used (or not) based upon how they are viewed in the first place. In their infancy, Facebook and Twitter were often dismissed as not being appropriate for meaningful professional communications, a perception that has shifted considerably in recent times as firms from all manner of sectors have discovered the communications and marketing potential of such platforms. Linkedin has always enjoyed a reputation as a credible means of building up a professional network, a view based to a large extent on how it is structured, the kind of content that can be found within and the tools made available to users of the platform. Similarly, the eternal PC-versus-Mac debate hinges largely on what people consider to be the relative merits of each system and therefore which one is both the easier to use and the most suitable for personal and/or professional use.
Linking perception and emotion
None of the above opinions should be argued with as such. Indeed, from a corporate perspective, the issue here is not to establish what IT tools are simply the highest-performing but also which ones are best suited to the anticipated emotional response (also known as “Behavioural Intention”) of their target users and therefore the most likely to be embraced and used effectively in the workplace. From the IT design and development perspective, it is therefore the emotional process that users go through to make such value judgements that absolutely must not be overlooked.
Research seeking to link perception with emotion in the IT domain has so far explored the issue on a mainly theoretical level. However, the crucial next step for practitioners (i.e. IT developers) is to establish with the target users of their tools the design features that are the least likely to generate a negative response. At a higher level within firms, senior management should also pay considerable attention to the potential negative impact that rejection of new IT tools can have on workers’ overall performance in the workplace. An expensively designed, all singing-all dancing intranet that is ultimately more difficult to use than its less fancy predecessor may have workers tearing their hair out in front of their computer screen, which in turn can effect motivation and morale.
Measuring the debate
Whilst the link between perception and emotion and its potential repercussions on professional performance make good theoretical sense and can be practically applied, the issue as a whole is worthy of deeper investigation. Future steps should include exploration of the relative potential for negative or positive reactions of Perceived Usefulness and Perceived Ease of Use. The $64 000 question here is where workers’ priorities lie – whether IT makes their own job easier to carry out or whether the contribution of IT to the firm as whole is of greater importance.
This article was inspired by the paper Interplay of cognition and emotion in IS usage: Emotion as mediator between cognition and IS usage, written by Bouchaib Bahli and Inju Yang and published in The Journal of Enterprise Information Management, 28, 3 (2015).
Bouchaib Bahli is Professor of Information Technology (IT) at Rennes School of Business, France. His research areas are: IT outsourcing, risk management of software development projects and, IT adoption modelling. His publications appeared in Information and Management, Journal of Information Technology, OMEGA, Communications of AIS, and Requirement Engineering Journal.
Inju Yang is Professeur at EDC Paris Business School, France. Her research areas are Cross Cultural Management/ Expatriates, Leadership/ Group Development and Emotions/ Conflict Management