Designing for Emotion

**** May142012

In Designing for Emotion, Aaron Walter makes a compelling case for building websites that appeal to users’ emotions. I immediately bought in to his underlying premise: that a computer and a website are just facilitators, and that ultimately, interacting with a website is a form of human-to-human interaction. This concept seems so clear that one wonders why it isn’t more evident in the design of most modern websites. Likely it’s because the final tier in Mr. Walter’s modified hierarchy of needs (pleasurable, p. 6) is the most difficult one to fulfill.

Designing for Engagement

Perhaps because I’m familiar with the work Mr. Walter has done at Mailchimp, I began this book with a preconception of “designing for emotion”: using happy colors, cute characters, and humor to make interfaces more engaging. While these techniques may be appropriate and effective in many cases, designing for emotion is much more than a cheeky monkey and a daily joke. It might be named more broadly “designing for the human psyche,” and includes things like:

  • Surprise and delight (p. 49)
  • Anticipation (p. 55)
  • Exclusivity (p. 57)
  • Variable rewards (p. 62)

A website can meet a user’s needs but still not compel her to return. If you can accomplish the same thing on two websites, and one is fun and one is dull, won’t you return to the fun one to repeat the task in the future?

Just a Start

This book, as part of the A List Apart imprint, is a brief primer, not a comprehensive guide. It is enough to spark ideas and discussion about how aspects of the human psyche can be incorporated in website’s design. It opens up avenues for exploration, without providing an explicit roadmap. As the author points out:

The examples in this chapter are not meant to be emulated, only to get you thinking about how you can convey your brand personality in your interfaced in a way that resonates with your audience.

Where does the personality come from?

One question that remains for me after reading this book is: where does the aforementioned “brand personality” come from? Mr. Walter does address what should be included in a “brand persona” (things like tone of voice, copy examples, colors and typography), and even provides Mailchimp’s as an example. But I’m still left wondering, can a designer or design team truly invent a brand persona from nothing, or does at least some nugget of the persona have to exist within the company? Can it be a fa├žade, or does it have to spring from the true culture or leadership of the organization to be successful?

Whatever the answer may be, this book convinced me that if you aren’t designing for emotion, you aren’t designing for humans. The top tier in Walter’s modified pyramid of needs feeds back into everything below it. Appealing to users’ human psyche fuels and communicates usability, reliability, and functionality.

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Author(s)Aaron Walter
PublisherA Book Apart

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