By Renee HoFebruary 5, 2016

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Have the ubiquitous emojis— smile emojis_05-08 —taken away our ability feel anything more nuanced than happy, neutral, and sad?
I get the point. These are heuristics that simplify communication in a hurried world. They’re a way for companies to get quick, easy feedback. But when I feel other things, as I think most humans do, there aren’t the symbols I need.

Sometimes I feel like  , sometimes liketeeth , and other times in ways that no emoji can really capture.

On recent travel, these interactive feedback machines were everywhere. But I just couldn’t bring myself to use them.

At Frankfurt airport, I got this one after being manhandled at the security checkpoint:



There wasn’t an emoji to express my frustration and feeling of public physical violation. I guess I could have put the sad face, emojis_05-08; it was a decent proxy.

Here’s the real problem—even if I did push the emojis_05-08, there was nothing else I could do to communicate what made me so emojis_05-08.

My emojis_05-08 would go into a void. I would leave this superficial technological interaction feeling more emojis_05-08, among other things, because I wouldn’t be able to say anything more. I would have gotten an automated “Thank you for your feedback!” and promptly punched the screen, only to get manhandled by security again.

Moreover, Frankfurt airport missed out on a chance to actually improve its service. Without capturing more than my emojis_05-08, it doesn’t even know what to change. It won’t learn or improve—the very point of the feedback mechanism.

If the tool had given me a chance to provide more details, would I have really been more smile?

In an earlier blog post, Feedback Folly: What we’re missing out on, I explore the motivations behind why people give feedback. People often don’t give feedback because they feel like they’re writing into a vacuum. Andrew Rasmussen in, Why you don’t give feedback, explains that you “usually get a discouraging generic response and it’s unclear whether your feedback is valued or will have any impact on the product [or service] roadmap.”

Exactly—there has to be a point for me to explain what happened and how I feel. Even if the Frankfurt airport feedback machine had provided me with space—say a second screen—to provide an explanation, I wouldn’t have bothered giving my feedback if I felt nothing would happen to it.

I needed some instant feedback myself. I needed to know that something would happen with my feedback.

2 Responses to “Feedback, the Emoji, and the Void Beyond”

  1. Renee Ho

    February 16, 2016

    Hi Josh,

    Thanks for your comment. You’re right– it’s always easier to criticize than propose concrete solutions! Airport security checks are a unique context– harried and stressful– so there is a real trade-off: do we make something simple and fast to increase our response rate or do we make it more detailed at the risk of taking more of a person’s time?

    I wonder if we’ll get to at point in the future so that when we push a 🙁 button, the machine will read who we are and send us a text/email so that we can respond with the “Why?” details of our 🙁 experience. That way, we won’t feel the time pressure to do it at that awful time when you’re still collecting your belongings and putting on your belt and shoes. I’m wary of how technology mediates human experiences and I think that if people are able to provide details, think they might feel that it will actually be used. It sounds– from your own post– that you’re also finding emojification a little jarring!

  2. Josh

    February 15, 2016

    Good post, Renee. What would you suggest they do to ensure that people better understand how they will use the feedback? I’m guessing they don’t give an explanation because they assume that people will understand that feedback given will be used to evaluate the quality of the experience–and makes changes based on that. But their assumption may very well be wrong. Or my assumption of their assumption may be wrong.

    On another note, although not on the topic of feedback, I recently wrote a post on the emoji-fication of typing that might be of interest.


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