Measuring and evaluating emotions towards physical spaces

emotional_space1Well, it’s kind’a cool at the deep end of the pool. Two months into my current status as a Master of Science I’m having lots of fun working on a temporary basis (let’s hope that changes soon) with the good people at Susa Group, the company that I worked for during my graduation project.

And it’s lots of fun because I’m doing something which I really enjoy, and we are working on transforming one of the concepts I developed during graduation into a fully working and marketable tool which hopefully people will be using in a very, very near future.

It’s still a work in progress, but the idea is to develop a tool that can help in measuring and evaluating emotions towards  physical spaces. This opens up the door to a plethora of possibilities and applications: evaluating an urban environment to know how people feel about their surroundings (emotions in architecture and urbanism), finding out how people feel about that new interior design that you are developing for a new store (emotions in retail design) or identifying the critical emotional points of a restaurant or of a hotel lobby (emotions in experiential services) are but a few of the examples I can think of.

I’ll make a series of postings regarding the tool as it develops, but for this first one I wanted to start by explaining the concept as it was conceived during my graduation. Remember that the tool was originally intended to be used to measure emotions towards services.

So here it goes:

The Panoremo concept:

Using a panoramic view of an environment in a computer based application, an interface can be deployed which gives the respondent the opportunity to pin-point those things for which he has an emotional reaction and to identify which emotion it is that he feels towards this selected location.

The tool could be implemented in electronic kiosks or other types of interactive screens within the location itself, with a panoramic view relevant to where they are placed, for example a view of a hotel lobby on a kiosk set in the hotel itself, or a view of the room on a touchscreen placed somewhere in the room.

A more practical and cost effective approach would be to implement it as an online survey which can be sent via e-mail to your panel of target users to receive their feedback.

Early prototype development

An initial prototype was developed using Adobe Flash and the interface deployment of the LEMTool, one of Susa Group’s products which uses a similar principle of pin-pointing a location and assigning an emotion to it through the  use of cartoon characters, but which is used for the evaluation of the graphical layout of web sites. By placing the mouse cursor above one of the semi-transparent arrows on the sides, the view of the location will start scrolling sideways (left or right depending on the chosen arrow) to show the rest of the panoramic view. The prototype was built to allow an infinite loop of the panoramic image, to give the impression of a seamless rotation of the view.


The cartoon character was placed in a prominent top central location with the legend “Express yourself!” to encourage respondents to use the tool. The respondent must drag and drop the character into any position visible on screen, after which an interface will be deployed showing the 8 different depictions of the emotions available. As the respondent begins to drag the character, it turns into a reticle to allow the user more accuracy while selecting a location. Once a location is chosen, the background is darkened and a light is kept around the location that was clicked as a way of giving feedback that the chosen emotion will be related to this specific location. The emotions are placed on a circular background with a “spike” pointing at the chosen location to make a stronger emphasis on this.


The respondent can choose an emotion by clicking on it and then clicking on the green tick to confirm his choice. He can also cancel assigning an emotion to the chosen location by clicking on the X mark. An error message was also included to avoid respondents clicking on the tick without choosing an emotion first.


Once an emotion has been selected and confirmed, an emotional marker is left on the chosen location of the panoramic view. The respondent can place as many emotional markers as he wishes. To finish off, the respondent can click on the “I’m Done!” button, which will gather all the reported emotions and locations and save them by using a PHP script to append the data to a comma separated text file containing the results from other participants.

Pilot testing


To evaluate the interface and the types of results that can be gathered with the tool, a pilot test was set up by using the cafeteria of the Industrial Design Faculty at the Delft University of Technology as a test environment for the panorama view. The cafeteria was chosen because it is a good example of a service which was close at hand to allow for a quick test and for which I could easily find a panel of users who where familiar with it.


The application was placed online and a total of 30 students and faculty staff members took part of the test. Later on, 10 of them were approached with a 5 question survey to ask for their opinion about the tool and the way they used it.

The results from all 30 participants were placed on a single panoramic image (dubbed an emotional panorama) to allow for a better comparison of the emotions and locations chosen by all the participants (see below).

Test evaluation

While using the tool, people think about how they normally experience the service of the cafeteria and not necessarily how the cafeteria is portrayed at the moment of taking the picture, although certain time specific situations which play an important role might be difficult to comment on.

“I was thinking of the way I experience it in general, not a specific time…although I was triggered by what I saw”

With the tool people wanted to comment both on the setting and the situations encountered within the setting, so for example they were reporting emotions to both the type food offered and the fact that sometimes there is a long queue to pay.

“I thought about situations I encountered: the way bread looks, the queue at the counter etc.”

Many respondents also thought about using the tool to show their emotions towards the staff, but they felt they had much more to report about the setting and situations. This of course could be different if the service that was evaluated had more involvement of staff members than the cafeteria does.
Respondents felt the need to elaborate on their choice of an emotion for a specific location. They felt that only placing an emotional marker was not enough and that they could express themselves better if they had the opportunity to explain why they felt a certain way and whether or not it was felt for what was seen on the picture itself or maybe about something that wasn’t pictured but that happens (such as a long queue), and even for situations and things which are not present in the setting at all but which they would like to see added to the service.

“I was worried that the researcher will not know why I feel certain things. The eight options of expressing emotions were good, but I missed the opportunity to explain myself.”

Tool evaluation

Although the tool seems to be very effective to assess the emotions felt towards a certain setting, it seems that a thorough knowledge of what regularly happens at this venue is needed in order to be able to assess situations related to the place but which are not portrayed in the panoramic picture itself. In these cases where the situation is not portrayed in the picture, we rely solely on the respondent’s memory and comments to get some results, making the tool less effective to measure situational issues or actions, but quite effective when evaluating spaces and physical things within these spaces.

And although the tool has some shortcomings regarding these situational evaluations, the formatting of the results in the form of the emotional panorama of the setting, does work as a very powerful tool in the identification of locations with a highly emotional focus which can be used for latter, more in depth analysis of these locations, as can be seen from the two examples circled above in the emotional panorama, where a high number of emotional markers are concentrated in a very small space, even though the respondents could not see where other people had clicked.

The future

As I mentioned, I am currently working together with Susa Group towards the full development of this tool as a means to evaluate emotions in and towards physical spaces. In the coming time I’ll try and post about the new features we’ve come up with for the tool and  within a few days a new website dedicated exclusively to Panoremo will be launched, where you will be able to find more indepth information and get to play around with a live demo of the tool.