How to Create an Emotional Design? (Real-World Examples to Inspire You)

Montse Gil
September 20, 2021
12-minute read
tenscope linkedintenscope xtenscope whatsup share buttontenscope facebook

Did you know that most of our decisions are not rational but emotional? This means that we are far more influenced by our subconscious than we care to admit.

It is widely known that emotions play a crucial role in our lives. They are our compass when it comes to making value judgments: they help us determine what is important and what is not. 

But let's be clear. Emotions are not on the products or the services you offer. They are in the minds and bodies of your customers. Therefore, it is your task to think about how you can create a product, service or customer experience that will ignite in people the emotions and feelings that you care about.

We are aware that this topic can seem somewhat abstract, but because of its increasing relevance we decided to create this article for you with an emphasis on Web design, using Disney World as a practical example. 

Here you will learn:

  • What exactly is emotional design?
  • The three levels of design appeal
  • Why is it important?
  • How to create an amazing emotional design

What exactly is emotional design? 

It was not too long ago that web developers still showed much more passion about creating the internal structure of websites than they did about their appearance, causing them to be unpleasant to the eyes of visitors.

Unsurprisingly, the websites´ ROI was nothing short of a disappointment for several businesses.

And as website design merged with marketing and psychology, web developers understood and adopted the ideas first proposed by cognitive scientist Donald A. Norman in his book “Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things”

According to Mr. Norman, emotional design focuses on offering stimuli that evoke emotional responses.

It is not just about making effective tools that are straightforward to use but about carefully crafting tools that enhance or complement the emotions of your customers and help express their identities.

Needless to mention, the most challenging part of emotional design is finding out how to build neat stimuli that will trigger the precise emotions you seek to convey.

When it comes to web design, rest assured that if you do it under the guidelines of emotional design, you will provide your users with a better experience and, as a result, your sales will increase dramatically.

The three levels of design appeal

To have a better understanding of emotional design, it is necessary to consider the psychological reasoning behind it.

In his book, Mr. Norman proposes three levels of design appeal which attempt to explain how people emotionally react to visual cues.         

Visceral design appeal

Refers to a subconscious level of reaction. Oftentimes called “first impression”, it is something you struggle to explain with words.

It deals with looks and sensory involvement. You tend to give prompt and strong responses. 

“Attractive things work better” -Donald Norman

Good visceral design makes you feel excited about the future, for it sets a positive context for subsequent interactions.

The effectiveness of visceral appeal can be easily studied by putting people in front of a design and waiting for their reactions.

Responses like “I want it”, “What can it do?”, “How much is it?” are the kind that visceral designers should aspire to get.

And remember, if you make your customers experience “love at first sight” it is more likely that they will forgive faults or mistakes down the line!

Behavioral design appeal

It is about the functional aspects of a product or service. As the name suggests, it affects the conduct and expectations of people.

Behavioral design strives to improve the efficiency and quality of the experience: how well it functions, how user-friendly it is, and how good – to the touch – it feels.|

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”. —William Morris "The Beauty of Life," 1880

At this level, users develop a firm opinion about the product.

A sense of empowerment, trust, and reliability are some of the responses that behavioral design appeal intends to elicit. 

Do not forget that you can only achieve good behavioral design once you have identified your customers´ needs.

Reflective design appeal

Concerned with the self-image, personal satisfaction, and memories of people.

Being the most complex of all three, the reflective design appeal is a timeless level. Since reflection can occur with both the past and the future.

At this stage, users interpret and understand things. They reflect on themselves and attempt to rationalize several aspects of the experience.

Users will closely analyze the meaning behind your product, its features, and cultural traits. But most importantly, they will evaluate the overall experience and calculate its potential to make a positive impact on their lives. 

“It is only at the reflective level that consciousness and the highest levels of feeling, emotions, and cognition reside. It is only here that the full impact of both thought, and emotions are experienced.” – Donald Norman

Positive reflective reactions can evoke a sense of pride and identity that goes beyond the product itself. Ultimately, customers feel encouraged to share their experience with other people.

If you appeal to the reflective emotions of your customers, it is more likely that they will remember you!

In short, it is accurate to say that the perfect emotional design should aim to satisfy all three levels of appeal. Or in other words, the goal is to make customers experience a state of delight.

customer state of delight

Why is it important?

Now that you have learned about the levels of emotion that your design should aim to appeal to, we want to convince you to take these ideas further.

Clearly, emotional design plays a major role in the creation of a pleasing and memorable user experience. But what's in it for me? you may think.

To illuminate this point, let's do a quick exercise.

Just try to recall the last time you visited a website… and ask yourself: how did I feel? How long did that feeling last? Was the website informative and easy to navigate? Was the design aesthetically pleasing? Would I gladly visit it again? Would I recommend it or actually share it with others?

Probably, asking yourself these questions out loud was new to you. But the truth is that your mind processes all these answers extremely fast, and most of them unconsciously.

When you get negative answers to these kinds of questions, the thought of asking the company why they chose such a horrible theme for their website – or why they didn't display their price list, etc — very rarely crosses your mind.

When the emotional needs you seek to fulfil as a customer are not met, the most normal reaction is to keep looking for more options.

Which is exactly why having a poor emotional design equals giving up your customers to the competition.

Moreover, emotional design can help you reach several marketing goals. So, if you manage to deliver a delightful experience, you can expect your conversion and customer acquisition rates to go through the roof!

Need we say more?

Spot on!

To paint a clear picture of these concepts applied on web design, let's take a look at Disney World's landing page. 

The main thing you will notice is the video on the hero. With a shot of the famous Disney castle in the first seconds, the website makes a strong first impression, thus luring viewers at a visceral level.

The words ´Magic Is Waiting´ generate excitement for what is to come and prime viewers for future positive reactions. 

disney world castle

As you scroll down the page, you encounter very straightforward calls to action. 

Under the clear subheading ´Park Reservations and Planning Guide´, the ´Make a Reservation´ and ´Learn More´ buttons lead visitors to the information they are most likely looking for. 

Therefore, the website appears efficient and comes across as user-friendly. This is an example of behavioral design. 

With little text and relatable pictures, it is safe to say most visitors are still engaged with the site – if not already purchasing tickets for their next holidays. 

Disney pass Mickey

Moving onto the last part of the page, you find the most powerful parts. 

The ´Tickets & Experiences´ section evokes memories, old yearnings and cravings. With a dynamic and colorful gallery, the user is encouraged to fantasize about the experience and ponder the impact of living the magic.

This is an excellent practice of reflective design.

Lastly, the section ´Shop, Plan and Play´ is led by smart and concise prompts on the pictures that invite users to explore beyond their initial needs. Hence, giving them a sense of delight.

How to create an amazing emotional design

Since you are already a quasi-expert in the theory of emotional design and have seen some practical examples, the time has come for you to get down to business.

Perhaps you are already acquainted with some of the strategies we are about to present to you. If you are, that's awesome. Keep it up!

But if this is new to you, don't worry. We got you! After all, the fact that you are reading this means you are on the right track.

So, without further ado, let's dive right into it.

Consider your audience's emotional needs

In order to use emotional design on a landing page, the first step is to find out which emotions have the ability to inspire your buyer persona to take action.

Bear in mind that each type of conversion derives from different emotional needs.

For example, if you offer meditation classes, the emotional needs you would satisfy  is mental clarity and relaxation.

Needless to mention, most people share basic needs and wants.

So, if you want to create a delightful website, it is essential that you ask yourself which emotional needs are most relevant to your customers and how they could see in your brand a solution to fulfil them. 

Harness the power of colors 

Did you know that the average person decides whether or not they like something in under 90 seconds? Well, 85% of that decision is influenced by color alone.

For years, psychologists have been studying the intrinsic relationship between colors and emotions.

“Colors, like features, follow the changes of emotions” - Pablo Picasso

Since most colors tend to have several connotations, selecting the right palette for your brand, website and products is crucial to effectively communicating the identity of your company.

To find out more, read our blog post on ´The psychology of Colors´

Be relatable

Humans are naturally empathetic beings. We tend to imitate the attitudes and actions of other people.

If you see someone showing a certain emotion, it is highly likely that, to some degree, you will also experience that exact emotion.  

For this reason, using images on your website is key to building emotional connections with your customers.

Remember ´a picture is worth a thousand words´.

So, make sure you display pictures of people expressing the emotions that you want your audience to feel, and you will generate instant identification.  

Use emotional words

Emotional design is not only about what we communicate, but also about how we communicate it.

Using words with strong emotional significance will help you tell a more enticing version of your story.

However, choosing the right words for your website's content is not always an easy task.  

Beside having to take into account the corporate identity of your brand, the services you offer, and the people with whom you aim to have communication, you also need to be concise and inviting.

So, if you are not sure about the ideas you come up with, we suggest you consult an expert.

Hiring a professional copywriter will guarantee you persuasive content that captivates your brand's essence and communicates effectively your offer!

Keep content as concise as possible

It is widely known that the average attention span of web-users is less than 10 seconds, which means that they don´t read a website in its entirety but rather just skim it.

Therefore, when creating the content for your landing page, avoid providing information that your clients are not explicitly looking for.

Select smart keywords and place them strategically.

According to a study on website usability conducted by Jakob Nielsen, an improvement of nearly 58% in usability can be achieved simply by reducing texts to half their initial size.

If you want to enhance the readability of your website you can:

· use short sentences

· delete unnecessary information

· use common words

· avoid long paragraphs

· include time-saving and attention-grabbing techniques, e.g. write 1,500kg instead of ´one thousand five hundred kilos´

Be memorable

Use humor

Being one of the most effective ways of communication, humor can help avoid confusion and promote comfort in a conversation. However, you must not forget that while some people may find your website funny, other people may think it's dull or even offensive. So, know-your-audience!

Create desires

The demand for your products is closely determined by their attractiveness. That is precisely why you need to make sure that the images of your products are causing your customers to say “I want that

Don't forget about the details

More often than not, little things are what touch people on an emotional level. To better understand this point, just take a look at Marvel's 404 error page.

Marvel 404 page not found

While for most websites, directing the users to a 404 page would entail ´kicking them out´ of the experience, with the words ´HYDRA is currently attacking this page!”´ and the illustration, Marvel makes sure to keep their visitors on a pleasing journey!

Remember the problem

“A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: solve the correct problem.” ― Donald A. Norman

Users need to fulfil their needs. What matters to them is not the specific characteristics of the solution you offer them, but what and how it will contribute to their lives.

Therefore, your landing page should focus on presenting the benefits of your product or service in a way that resonates with potential customers.

A simple but very effective trick is to include a list of benefits with bullet points.

In other words, you have to remind the users that the problem still exists. Afterwards,  attempt to solve their emotional needs by presenting your solution. 

In a nutshell

Emotional design should charm people at three different levels — visceral, behavioral, and reflective. All these levels merge to form an effective design that makes users feel in a specific way that complements your product.   

The objective is to produce delightful experiences which can only be done through designs that contain effective, appealing, memorable, and pleasurable features.

Web developers are responsible for balancing these levels and maximizing the impact of their stimuli on web users.

If you want to create a compelling and emotional website, you should consider implementing the strategies previously discussed and/or finding a designer who can understand the needs and desires of your customers while taking into account your goals and expectations.

If you have any questions on the matter or would like to talk to our designers, do not hesitate to  contact us. 

three levels of design appeal
table of contents
tenscope linkedintenscope xtenscope whatsup share buttontenscope facebook
SaaS Onboarding:
The definitive guide

Navigating the complexities of user onboarding is a pivotal challenge for every SaaS founder. Our latest eBook is your roadmap to mastering this essential process.

Get the book

Add designers to your team in hours, not weeks.

Discover the impact of world-class design with our 7-day free trial.

Get Started