Emotional Design – Is This the Most Powerful Way to Connect?

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To understand what works and what doesn’t (given a specific context), it’s also essential to understand the ‘why’ of it all. If you’re building digital products or platforms for people, you will always need to understand what influences human behavior.

Emotional design helps us do just that.

What is Emotional Design?

Emotions are powerful. They dictate how we like, dislike – love, or hate things. We experience inspiration, devastation, and peace — all because of the emotions we feel.

By definition, the emotional design lets us create products that draw out appropriate emotions to create a fulfilling (or positive) user experience. A positive experience doesn’t necessarily include positive emotions — it should fulfill (or surpass) a user’s expectations.

Example: A scary video game should invoke fear and anticipation within a player’s mind to fulfill the objective of playing that game. That’s how a positive experience would translate for a scary video game.

The concept of studying human emotions for creating extraordinary experiences isn’t new. We’ve seen it happen forever — only the mediums have changed.

Emotions Manifest in Two Major Ways

Psychological expression:

Psychologically manifested emotions are like software; they’re only felt without any tangible changes. They influence how we think/feel/react.

Example: A picture of fire will only help you recall the memory of fire, heat, or however you relate to it. But it won’t make you feel hot.

Physiological expression:

On the other hand, physiologically manifested emotions are more tangible; they’re felt physically. They influence how our body acts.

Example: Actual fire will make you feel hot.

We can create products that influence our psychological and physiological expression, depending on the most appropriate product.

Gaming consoles come with remote controls that also vibrate when certain events take place within a game. Apart from keeping the player mentally engaged, a remote is used to create a thrill/urgency/surprise for the player physiologically.

Emotional design – the three levels

Thanks to Don Norman, we can better understand how emotional design works by dividing it into three main types.

Emotional design – the three levels

Visceral design (a joy to look at):

This level is all about appearance.

Ever heard the phrase, “this looks good?” Why do people use a phrase that only talks about how something looks?

Visual appeal is a vital element of a good user experience design and deals with how something is perceived. If something “looks good,” it’s safe to assume that it also works well. While that may not always be the case, it certainly engages our senses — enhances our experience.

Try recalling the feeling of holding a brand new phone with a sophisticated metallic finish or looking at some OCD — inducing, an aesthetically-pleasing arrangement of design patterns.

That’s why good design always performs better. Aesthetics and the perceived quality are attractive, and that draws users towards it.

Behavioral (a joy to use):

This pertains more to the usability aspect of a product.

The behavioral aspect of emotional design judges how we interact with a product. If our interactions with a product are friction-less, easy, and fulfill our requirement to complete a task — we feel satisfied.

This satisfaction invokes pleasant emotions in users, establishing a product as an effective and useful tool.

A good behavioral design makes users repeatedly use your product, fostering trust and reliability.

Example: Tablets. Apple wasn’t the first company to bring tablets to the market; Microsoft was. But Apple reinvented how we use tablets, how effective they can be as tools to satisfy our needs (and create more).

Reflective (a joy to own):

Why do we feel a sense of pride and joy in owning certain products? That’s because we get an experience that we always love going back to (whether it’s active or passive).

The reflective emotional design focuses on how a user feels about a product in retrospect. Revisiting the (good) feeling of using a product and the results it can achieve.

This experience design can be seen in action even when a product isn’t being used (because it’s psychological). People associate themselves with the image of a product’s brand and take pride in relating to it — making it more likely to share their experience.

This is how some products form a cult-like following.

Nir Eyal even wrote a book on creating products that people want to come back to.

This is how some products form a cult-like following.

More Examples of Emotional Design

Visceral Design Example:

Hopper – A travel app that lets you book flights. This is what their home page looks like:

Visceral Design Example


The overall design and heading copy make for an attractive, relaxing, and calm impression. Here’s what their mobile app looks like:

Hopper – A travel app that lets you book flights. This is what their home page looks like:

Behavioral Design Example:

Pocket makes it super easy to save articles, videos, and stories from any publication, page, or app. It lets you save content from anywhere, with their desktop, mobile and browser apps.

And the tags allow you to group your articles quickly. It works well for your daily usage.

Pocket even reads out your saved articles for you, allowing you to decrease screen time while still gaining knowledge.

Reflective Design Example:

Why do we need apps to run? Couldn’t we go out, run a stretch, and call it a day?

Nike Run Club App – This app allows you to track your runs with GPS. Allows weekly, monthly, and custom distance Challenges; customized coaching plans.

Reflective Design Example:

You can even compare and compete with your friends for running activities.

Nike Run Club also lets you share your running activities on social media platforms.

The social element of challenging/competing with friends, sharing activities on social media, and a feature to calculate how much you’ve run in each shoe is a good example of thoughtful design.

Designing Products and Platforms that use Emotional Design to Bring Delight

Designing Products and Platforms that use Emotional Design to Bring Delight

Combine all three levels, and you have a design that delivers Delight to your users — something that’s a joy to look at, a joy to use, and a joy to own.

Here’s a quick rundown of what you can do to implement emotional design:

  • Please give them a personality (through tone and voice)
  • Add micro-interactions (make it feel alive)
  • Use surprise (people love it
  • Build a story (humans connect to stories faster)
  • Personalization is engaging (gives a sense of ownership)

Emotions are powerful; they can inspire and sustain powerful connections for humans.

Some UX designers even use tools like Plutchik’s Wheel of Emotions to draw out select — to understand how a product is perceived, used, and revisited.

This makes it more likely for a user to keep coming back to you.

James wilsonAuthor Bio:

James Wilson is a seasoned Content Writer at Net Solutions, New York, for ten years with an expertise in blogging, writing creative and technical copy for direct response markets, and B2B and B2C industries. Born and brought up in New York, James holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature. He has worked for industries like IT, software product design and development, Lifestyle, and written some great insights on technologies like user experience design, mobile app development, eCommerce, etc. Besides his technical background, he is not very disconnected from the digital in his free time – he loves to binge-watch Netflix.

Emotional Design – Is This the Most Powerful Way to Connect?

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