Jan. - Apr. 2017

Team Size




Physical Prototype


Concept Testing


Emoterial is a twelve weeks design and research project where I worked in a group
of three exploring the relationship between materials and emotion as part of the Design Process Modeling coursework at Univerisity of Michigan. We developed a
 set of cards were designed to help designers selecting physical materials during different design stages. 

Introducing Emoterials

The Emotion Wheel on the card will enable users to document the elicited emotions, by spinning the dial to the emotion that best matches the feeling, users can then take a photo with their phone and later share with their teammates or friends.

Material Selection Frame



Emoterial cards can be used anywhere. The following is an example of how the different material on the same product can elicit different emotions. 

The Emoterial Card Set has 9 different daily products including phone case, vase, headphone etc. Each card provides only the shape of the product, users can put cards on any material of interest (i.e. wall, floor, carpet etc.) in order to create simple
product prototype with different materials. 

Opportunity Space

Materials are inseparable parts of physical artifacts. Different materials may
elicit different emotions
, but few have noticed that while viewing the
same material, people may have disparate emotional responses towards
the same product.

Why does it matter?

The problem can be described as potential differences in emotional response between different parties:

1) members of a design team while designing for the same product.

2) a designer and end-user, while viewing the same visual material on the
    same product. 

For example, if the designer desires the product to be calm and less surprising, he or she should have some understanding of what material selection will elicit those emotions from the user.

How Might We - 
inform designers of materials' emotional influences on end-users for the material selection in the design process?
Design Objective

The main functions of Emoterial are as followed:

  1. Understanding the relationship between materials, its visual characteristics, and emotional responses

  2. Informing designers of the designer bias within the material selection process and aid designers in exploring what materials and visual characteristics may cause them to emotionally react differently than their fellow designers and end-users.

  3. Provoking thoughts at the idea generation stage and enable designers to conduct different brainstorm activity inside the group

  4. Enabling designers to conduct usability trial with potential users when choosing materials for the product before the prototyping stage.

Potential User

Designers at the early, divergence, and convergence stage of the product
design process.

Design Process

Selection of Materials & Emotions

In order to conduct field studies, we narrowed down the set of materials by referring to the families of materials model of Ashby and Cebon. We chose at least one common material from each family, namely; aluminum and copper from metals...

In a similar way, we also narrowed down the set of emotions. By taking Russell’s circumplex of emotions, we decided to focus on Surprise, Excited, Happy, Relaxed, Quiet, Bored, Sad, and Annoy.

The Process of How We Came Up with HearU is Coming Soon!
Stay Tuned!
Survey Study

Variables for Survey

Due to limited literature and researches on the relationship between materials and emotions, we designed and conducted three survey studies to gather data in order to better design our tools.


Each survey was designed for different purposes, accordingly, it affected each survey's variables as well as the way it displayed. 

1st Survey Study: Testing Material Concept Alone

The aim of the survey is to explore the user’s emotional perception of certain
materials without visual clues. All the materials were presented in their names in
the text format to minimize variables such as material contexts and biases
created by the sample images.

Participants were asked to rank the materials based on the elicited emotions so
that a general correlation between specific materials and emotions can be drawn
from the results.

2nd Survey Study: Introducing Visual Materials and Characteristics

Survey 2 builds on these results by trying to influence these base reactions through visual material characteristics, with two main goals:

  1. Determine the effect of materials’ visual characteristics (gloss, smoothness, transparency, etc.) on emotional response.

  2. Be able to inform designers of more complex biases based on the combination of materials and their characteristics

3rd Survey Study: Introducing Product Context

The final survey put materials and material characteristics within a product context. Two products that were rendered were informed by the most popular answers from Survey 2 about the users’ everyday products: a toothbrush and a phone case.

How surveys inform design tools

User Testing & Outcome

Three design teams in the class were asked to use Emoterial cards exploring materials for hypothetical design problems.

Emoterial is a useful tool for providing discussion within design teams to anticipate each team member’s emotional reactions to different material properties.

70% of the participants expressed their willingness to use Emoterial Cards in their future design projects.  

Key Finding

Visual materials elicit an emotional reaction consensus but show individual differences.

Key Finding

Visual material characteristics (glossy/matte) influence emotional reactions and a consensus is formed within a visual non-product context

Key Finding

Product context influences the reaction to material characteristics. The broad consensus to the material remains, the broad consensus to the characteristics dissolves.

Final Design

Prototyping Process


© 2020 by Beijia Wang. All Rights Reserved