Emotional Design

Your constantly-updated definition of Emotional Design and collection of videos and articles

What is Emotional Design?

Emotional design is the concept of how to create designs that evoke emotions which result in positive user experiences. Designers aim to reach users on three cognitive levels—visceral, behavioral and reflective—so users develop only positive associations (sometimes including negative emotions) with products, brands, etc.

“Everything has a personality: everything sends an emotional signal. Even where this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view the website infer personalities and experience emotions.”

— Don Norman, Grand Old Man of User Experience

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Professor Alan Dix explains why considering emotions is vital when you design experiences.

Emotional Design is Design that Anticipates and Accommodates Users’ Needs and Responses

As a designer, you focus on users’ needs in their interactions with your products or services. It’s logical that the functionality you design should help them achieve their goals as efficiently and effectively as possible. But you also have to focus ontheir responses, which are naturally emotional. As rational as we may like to think we are, emotions are at the heart of how we interpret reality. Positive experiences drive curiosity. They help motivate us to grow as individuals. Negative experiences help us prevent repeated mistakes. However, these not-so-positive experiences can sometimes be fun—consider the chilling thrills of horror movies. Likewise, users associate feelings with what they encounter. They also have tempers; some get frustrated faster than others. The fact is that the emotional design of a product or service affects its success—and thus the bottom line. Whether or not they realize it, users have sophisticated thought processes going on most of the time. So, you must address three levels of cognitive responses when you design:

  1. Visceral—Users’ gut reactions to or their first impressions of your design; e.g., an uncluttered user interface suggests ease of use.

  2. Behavioral—Users subconsciously evaluate how your design helps them achieve goals, and how easily. They should feel satisfied that they’re in control, with minimum effort required.

  3. Reflective—After they encounter your design, users will consciously judge its performance and benefits, including value for money. If they’re happy, they’ll keep using it, form emotional bonds with it and tell their friends.

How to Apply Emotional Design

To apply emotional design, you first need a good functional design to work with. You also need to gain a deep understanding of your users through UX research. Here are some ways to make emotional design work for you:

  1. Give your work a signature personality – a face/mascot for users to identify with that suits your brand/organization/industry (e.g., MailChimp’s Monkey, Freddie).

  2. Have your design engage users as a character. Include personal touches in all tasks, to reinforce the illusion of a personable helper who knows users like an old friend.

  3. Use color/contrast advantageously (e.g., blue for banking = trustworthiness).

  4. Craft copy with the right tone to inspire or accommodate emotions. Write appropriate terms/phrases (e.g., Slack’s “You’re here! The day just got better.” greeting). Use fonts and styles that suit the image you want to project.

  5. Customize microcopy (labels, etc.) users can relate to which matches your other copy’s voice/tone.

  6. Apply video/sound to carry messages “in character” (like in the above).

  7. Personalize the experience for different users. (E.g., show users what else they might like, based on their information.)

  8. Offer prizes and surprises (e.g., let users check how many likes they have and find new log-in background images). Consider including Easter eggs.

  9. Use storytelling.

  10. Maintain attention to detail, especially on error messages. Include polite, light-hearted/humorous messages to alleviate users’ frustration whenever problems arise (e.g., downtime). Consider treats to compensate for inconveniences – e.g., chances to win account upgrades.

On the Interaction Design Foundation’s 404 error page, we use light-hearted language to try to alleviate frustration—and a small treat in the form of an article on great 404 pages.

Above all, to creative positive emotional engagement, you must have a friendly presence in your design—to show users you know them. Reinforce this with happy customer testimonials and pictures of your office/team. Your design should look different from competitors’. It should also feel different, as a reliable, pleasurable part of users’ lives. Attractive designs that accommodate users’needs and feelings give the impression they work better, too. Whatever the emotions your design conjures in users, these feelings will affect the bottom line. Even a minor oversight can trigger the wrong impression overall.

Learn More about Emotional Design

Take our Emotional Design course.

Read Smashing Magazine’s in-depth, example-filled piece on Emotional Design.

This blog is loaded with industry insights and examples.

For an insightful view of Emotional Design from the Grand Old Man of User Experience himself, Don Norman, read his book on the subject.

Literature on Emotional Design

Here’s the entire UX literature on Emotional Design by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Emotional Design

Take a deep dive into Emotional Design with our course Emotional Design — How to Make Products People Will Love .

What separates great products from good ones? Attractive designs? User testing? Genius designers? Well, these might be contributory factors, but the true distinction lies in how they make users feel. Every experience has an emotional component, and using products is no different. Incorporating emotion should therefore be a key consideration when designing products or websites. This course will provide you with an understanding of emotional responses and how to create designs that encourage them.

An understanding of emotional design—how users feel and what affects these feelings—is essential if you want to provide great user experiences. There are probably things near you right now that are not necessarily the best, and they might not even be particularly attractive, but you are nonetheless still using them. Take a seashell from your favorite beach, or your very first tennis racket, for example; they are meaningful to you, and you consequently feel a connection to them. These connections are powerful; they subconsciously affect you and have the capacity to turn inanimate objects into evocative extensions of you as an individual.

In this course, we will provide you with the information necessary to elicit such positive emotional experiences through your designs. Human-computer interaction (HCI) specialist Alan Dix provides video content for each of the lessons, helping to crystallize the information covered throughout the course. By the end of it, you will have a better understanding of the relationship between people and the things they use in their everyday lives and, more importantly, how to design new products and websites which elicit certain emotional responses.

All open-source articles on Emotional Design

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