An intro to designing for emotion

Even though there is no tried and tested formula for emotional design, as designers of user-centred systems we should make use of the available human psychology principles which provide insight into the behaviour of our target audience.

Focusing on what we intend to achieve – such as increased conversion and viewer retention – is not a bad decision in itself, however it does end up being what limits the product’s success if we put aside what makes our target users tick. Pulling at heart strings has always been a great marketers’ specialty, and it is indeed how a large variety of products sell more than their competition. Successful products offer what is deemed by the user as an ‘exceptional’, ‘authentic’ and ‘memorable’ experience. Therefore it is essential that as designers we try to understand why people do what they do and what motivates them to be loyal and take the initiative to recommend the product to others. That said, one must not forget that the basics of digital product design such as an app or a website must first be covered; those include: full functionality, reliability and usability. Once these are seen to, designers can then look at the last tier: delight.

Emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories.

Dr John Medina, Brain Rules

When a product offers an emotionally positive experience, the user’s interaction with it will create a feedback loop which will make him/her continue using the product and placing trust in it. This also initiates intrinsic motivation within the user: self-motivation to use the product because he/she likes the experience, which is the first step towards great emotional design.

In order to create engagement, the user needs to relate with the product as if it were another human. This happens when brand attributes and personality are showcased throughout all the stages of the product design process, including tone of voice, visual style, user research and the marketing of the product itself. This is done by heading the process with an in-depth research about the targeted users, and building personas based on what they would need, want like and hate, which in turn will inform the majority of the decisions taken during the user-centred design process. The connection which the human-based brand personality creates with the user generates empathy within the audience, which together with trust is another stepping stone towards loyalty and potential recommendation.

Overall attractiveness also forms part of this summarised emotional design equation. When a product is visually attractive, people tend to perceive it to be of higher quality, better functionality and consequently, much more pleasurable to use. Therefore as designers, after delving into user research and psychology, let’s not forget our innate abilities to make things beautiful; yet also never losing sight of the higher value in creating an intuitive, usable and delightful product, always with the user in mind.


Emotional Design, Donald Norman
Maintaining Brand attributes in UI,
How to design for optimal user experiences and delight users,
Designing for Emotion, Arron Walter