It’s no small feat to both attract people to your website and keep them coming back. And while it’s hard to understate the value of quality products and memorable customer service, a comparably less-mentioned but extremely important aspect of effective web design is emotionally engaging visitors throughout their experience on your site. While everyone has websites they can point to and instinctively favor, just what is emotional design and how does it apply to the way visitors positively engage with information on the web?
The Three Heads of Emotional Design
The general theory behind emotional design, based on Don Norman’s book about why we do or don’t prefer certain iterations of everyday things, is as much about attracting people with explicit utility as appealing to the instinctive emotions they likely associate with it. While each relates to the other, this engagement normally gets broken down into three areas:
When you initially see something and think, “Oh yes, that seems fantastic. I want that,” your brain is telling you that you’ll be fantastic as a result of owning or otherwise associating with whatever that thing is.
From a design perspective, this is an impulsive, attention-grabbing way to get you interested enough to pursue that thing, be it the newest iPhone, workout routine, or theatrical release. Good visceral design subtly shows what consumers want, often visually, without having to say much, if anything, in words.
A film-grain closeup of a sleek-black muscle car or the image of incidental joy while sharing a popular soda during a movie are tried-and-true signals that make viewers feel what a designer wants them to instinctively associate with a given product or service right out-the-gate.
This is the design middle-ground between form and function. The effective and easy-feeling process of actually using a well-designed product or service is crucial to making users feel intelligent and attended to. They want to feel like they’ve made the right choice by exploring that choice’s options, and since 21% of consumers never open an app again after first use, and 77% of users uninstall apps 72 hours after installing them, the behavioral side of design is incredibly important for getting users to commit.
A language-learning site, like Duolingo, has to anticipate and experiment with both how users learn and what they like about learning in order to design action flows that are as emotionally persuasive as they are instructive.
When you submit your taxes online, a company like TurboTax needs to make a very complex and tabulative process feel less intimidating to customers without losing the logical threads of what needs to be calculated and submitted. They accomplish this with welcoming language on each webpage that bolsters user trust and an easy-to-navigate map for each type of information needed that users can return to. They include concise explanations of each stage of the submission process that come up at specific and user-tested times so you don’t feel overwhelmed.
This part of design has less to do with overall function and more with customer bonding. Reflectiveness in design is about what your site visitors remember and feel about your particular brand. While purely functional services can be memorable to a degree, like a stable and no-frills banking site, users don’t necessarily associate their brand with anything beyond such use.
The Chicago hat-making company Optimo has a reflectively amazing site due to how its style characterizes the brand. Because of the high resolution and well-angled images on each page, there’s always a hat near the center of the frame, sometimes carefully held by the makers, other times sleek-looking and waiting to be nabbed off the rack. The makers themselves are slightly blurred behind concise text so that you feel like they’re all business, but with a humanizing nostalgic side. You remember this company because of how they make you feel about something seemingly ordinary, yet impassioned.