The Role of Emotional Design in Functional Food & Beverage Innovation.

Raphaëlle O'Connor
5 min readDec 19, 2020

Integrating products and services as a foundation for success.

Building trust and transparency between food companies and customers is paramount to business success. Since customers are better informed than ever before, their expectations are high, and loyalty is rare. The interaction with a food or beverage product considers multiple drivers and complex interactions that can overlap and work in synergies: functional, nutritional and emotional attributes. These must be extracted from a qualitative and quantitative perspective.

Emotional design (also called affective design) encompasses the design of a product through the manipulation of the external sensory qualities has to offer a consumer with the emotional psychology and neuroscience associated upon consumption of a product and use of a service or platform: “consumer experience (CX) from within” where one can feel the benefit such as being more energised (Red Bull®), healthier gut (All-Bran®) or sustained energy (oats or Belvita®).

Product designers in consumer electronics are familiar with user interface (packaging, touch and feel) and user experience. Upon use of the product, both are required to provide a delightful consumer experience. A similar concept can be applied to functional food and beverage purchase with similar criteria and rating parameters: functional, reliable, usable, pleasurable. A more appropriate term that can be related to the food and beverages category may be “inperience” highlighting the fact that consumer-centric organisations and teams not only focus on the skillset but pay close attention to the mindset required to succeed.

A design-led innovation approach offers an intimate shared understanding of the unspoken emotional cognition, latent current and future needs of the customer. The challenge lies in collecting deep customer insights from pain-point to touchpoint and implementation into a highly integrated solution that include strengthening digital channel engagements (Straker and Wrigley, 2016).

From a project management perspective, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs must extract the essence of the market research activities, codify it and align the outcome with a conceptual framework from idea generation to sustainable changes and profitable business development opportunities. Ultimately this should help to refine product portfolio, pipeline and generation roadmap for each R&D platform and benefit.

Product designers and managers are aware of the importance of the strong link and connection between emotional experiences and new products to extract the lifecycle value of a business opportunity. With consumers adopting the outcome of technology, companies digitally disrupt themselves to pre-empt and deliver on new expectations that will soon become the norm. Instead of working in silos, projects and teams would benefit greatly from creating partnerships, multi-disciplinary governance teams and systematic compasses, robust processes, and ways-of-working that focus on applying emotional design beyond functional foods and beverages to the systems, services and business models that drive them.

While there are gaps, several tools and best practices are already available as a blueprint to facilitate a consumer-obsessed approach towards innovation and product development:

  • A lean start-up provides a framework for rapid experimentation through learning, prototyping (Minimum Viable Product or MVP) and testing.
  • Integrated business models and optimised value streams throughout the supply chain to personalise and digitalise offerings towards health and wellness with science as a key driver.
  • Global market research and consumer trends with local granularity for subtle adjustments. Competitive intelligence and positioning to extract USP’s.
  • Converging products and categories using scientific and integrated nutritional intervention systems to look at overlap and synergies between different categories such as wellness, beauty-from-within and health. In this area, I suggest you consider ethnopharmacy of food, ethnobotany, phytomedicine as being key areas of focus and interest to facilitate innovation and new product development.

In terms of mastership and best in class, there is nothing like the human-centred design process workshop (i.e. Design Thinking) to help teams to create a compelling empathy map and detailed journey of the customer, analysis to frame the opportunity from the customer’s point of view, based on key insights. The idea is to refine the scope: touchpoints, clarify assumptions, create a hypothesis and communicate compelling value proposition and benefits. This is followed by ideation, prototyping and testing. Multi-disciplinary teams must stay agile and co-create to maintain and grow competitive advantage.

Product service innovations are rooted in how individual products, services and integrated solutions connect to create a robust ecosystem, multiple stimuli and compelling experiences that delight customers and protect brands and companies organically against competitors. Users will come back to the brand repeatedly because it provides a safety net that customers sense but never see. This is emotional design. It is the relentless deployment of these inescapable emotions across all elements of the business model, service and product that provide unique meaning and competitive offering to consumers that will differentiate success from failure.

The value of measuring emotion in product development is often understated and overlooked and the understanding of emotion is certainly going to be key to whether brands will stay or disappear. The purpose of emotion is to shift and direct our behaviour fundamentally toward survival, but more practically toward our well-being. Designers for the future should not design for behaviours that are happening now but design for behaviours that are emerging. When you are thinking about consumers, it’s about helping them make better decisions about their food behaviours.

If you are interested in a consumer-driven model and roadmap with emotional design and behavioural science at the core of your brand architecture, just let me know and we can organise a workshop. I believe I can contribute to developing a meaningful innovation roadmap, robust and differentiated pipeline and R&D platforms grounded in market research, consumer insights and relevant state-of-the-art sciences.


Price, R. and Wrigley, C. (2016) Design and a Deep Customer Insight Approach to Innovation. Journal of international consumer marketing. 28 (2). Pp. 92–105.

Straker, K. and Wrigley C. (2016) Designing an emotional strategy: strengthening digital channel engagements. Business Horizons. 59. Pp. 339–346.

Wrigley, C and Ramsey, R. (2016) Emotional food design: from designing food products to designing food systems. International Journal of Food Design. 1(1). Pp. 11–28



Raphaëlle O'Connor

Founder of iNewtrition, Raphaëlle is a food innovation consultant with over 25 years’ experience working internationally for start-ups and multinationals.