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Oleksandr Koshytskyi
Design Lead
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Emotion and Design: Designing for Emotional User Experience

A few 3D models of smiling emojis

This article focuses on people’s emotional reactions as they happen in the digital world, helping designers create better user experience and form long-lasting bonds with the audience.

In a world where products and services are increasingly commoditized, emotional design stands as a beacon of differentiation. By leveraging the potent intersection of emotion and design, creators craft experiences that resonate on a deeply personal level. The emotional designer does not merely aim for functionality but seeks to engage the heart, imprinting a lasting emotional impression on the user. Designing for emotion is about crafting a story that the user becomes a part of, with every interaction an opportunity to strengthen the narrative. Let’s delve into the fascinating world where design meets emotion, and explore how emotional design is redefining user experiences.

First things first: What is emotional design?

Emotional design is a powerful approach that considers the emotional response of users as a key component of user experience (UX). It moves beyond the traditional goal of usability to make people feel good, create a positive emotional response, and evoke emotions that lead to a memorable experience. A product that makes people feel good can transcend functionality, creating a bond with the user that is both deep and enduring. At the emotional level, design has the ability to transform a user's interaction from mere satisfaction to one of delight and even joy. 

To apply emotional design, designers work to understand their users' emotions and the contexts that drive these emotions. They use a variety of methods, including user research, emotional mapping, and persona creation, to design products that will resonate emotionally with users. The objective is to design products that not only meet the users' functional needs but also evoke positive emotions and connections, making the overall user experience delightful and memorable.

Exploring the Connection Between Emotion and Design

The emotional reaction to a design is as crucial as its aesthetics or usability. An emotionally engaging design can turn a mundane task into a pleasurable experience, ensuring users not only return to a product but advocate for it. When a design connects with a user on an emotional level, it can command loyalty and preference.

At the heart of this connection is the understanding that every touchpoint of design—from the curvature of an object to the color palette of an app—can trigger an emotional reaction. Designers have begun to use this understanding strategically, creating experiences that are not only visually appealing and functional but also emotionally resonant.

Emotion in design can play a key role in the success of a product. Products that evoke positive emotions are more likely to be remembered, shared, and preferred. For instance, a user might choose one product over another simply because it feels more joyful to use, even if both products serve the same function. The emotional impact of design can also lead to a deeper bond between the user and the product, fostering brand loyalty.

On the other hand, negative emotions can have an equally powerful but adverse effect. Frustration with a difficult interface or discomfort with an aesthetically unappealing product can lead to user abandonment. Therefore, designers must be acutely aware of the emotions their designs are likely to evoke and strive to minimize negative emotional reactions.

Don Norman’s Main Levels of Emotional Design

 Main levels of emotional design

Don Norman, a pioneer in emotional design, proposed three main levels: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. This framework has become foundational in understanding how to apply emotional design. Visceral design impacts users at the subconscious level, with an immediate emotional response to the look and feel. Behavioral design focuses on usability and the satisfaction of effective function. Reflective design involves the conscious thought that might come after use, the stories, and experiences a user recounts and shares. Now, let’s take a closer look at all three levels: 

Visceral Design

This is the first and most immediate level of emotional impact, influenced by the initial impression of a product. It's about the look, feel, and sound of the product, the aesthetic and sensory experience it provides. For example, a sleek sports car or a beautifully designed smartphone can evoke a visceral reaction based on its appearance and sensory appeal alone.

Behavioral Design

This level pertains to the use and experience of the product. If the product is functional, reliable, and usable, it can lead to a positive emotional response. Behavioral design is about the pleasure and effectiveness of use. A product that is easy to use and performs its function well satisfies the user's emotional need for competence and control.

Reflective Design

Reflective design relates to the user's reflective response after using the product. It includes the personal and cultural meaning, the message it communicates about the user, and the emotions associated with the user’s perception and memories of the product. This level of design is what allows users to form a personal connection with the product, influencing how they feel about the product in the long term, including their thoughts about its impact on their life and identity.

In practice, emotional design aims to create products that deliver a combination of these three levels of experience, ensuring not just functional utility but also a satisfying and meaningful experience. When products achieve this, they are often more desirable, leading to stronger brand loyalty and user advocacy.

How Emotional Design Can Offer a Better User Experience

By embracing emotional design, UX designers can create more compelling products that not only meet users' needs but also connect with them on a deeper emotional level. Emotional design can turn a good product into a great one, and a great one into something unforgettable. Here’s how emotional design can enrich the user experience:

  • Fostering Emotional Connections

Products that people have an emotional attachment to are more than just tools; they become part of a person’s life and identity. When users feel an emotional connection to a product, they are more likely to have a sense of ownership and loyalty. This kind of engagement goes beyond the superficial aspects of design and taps into deeper human experiences and values.

  • Enhancing Memorability

An experience that evokes emotion is more memorable than one that does not. Emotional design can help ensure that users not only remember the product but also have positive associations with it. This is crucial in a crowded marketplace where the ability to stand out often depends on a strong emotional impression.

  • Encouraging Sharing and Advocacy

When users have a positive emotional experience with a product, they are more likely to share their experience with others. Emotional design can turn users into advocates for the product, extending its reach and influence through the most trustworthy form of marketing—word of mouth.

  • Increasing Usability

Emotion and usability are deeply intertwined. A positive emotional state can make users more tolerant of minor usability issues, while a strong negative emotion can magnify them. By designing for emotion, products can be perceived as more intuitive and user-friendly.

  • Supporting User Empowerment

By designing for emotional experiences, products can empower users to feel more capable and in control. For example, an app that rewards users with positive feedback after completing a task can enhance their sense of achievement and encourage further interaction.

  • Creating a Competitive Edge

In a market where many products offer similar functionalities, emotional design can be the differentiator that captures and retains user interest. By offering a superior emotional experience, a product can outshine its competitors and command a premium position.

  • Influencing Decision Making

Emotions play a significant role in decision-making processes. Emotional design can help steer users toward beneficial behaviors and decisions, such as encouraging the use of certain features or promoting healthier choices through a wellness app.

  • Building Brand Identity

Emotional design helps shape how users perceive a brand. Consistent emotional experiences can reinforce brand values and personality, making the brand more recognizable and appreciated in the eyes of the users.

Main Steps to Emotional Design in Product Design

The process of incorporating emotional design into product design involves a series of deliberate and strategic steps. These steps help to ensure that the emotional aspect is not an afterthought but a fundamental part of the design from the beginning. Here's how to integrate design for emotions, engage design principles, create emotional products, and foster a robust relationship between design and emotion, particularly focusing on emotional design UX.

A visual showing the six steps needed for achieving emotional design

Step 1: Understanding User Emotions

User Research: Begin by conducting thorough user research to understand the emotional landscape of your target audience. What are their desires, fears, expectations, and frustrations? This phase is critical in identifying the emotional triggers that the design needs to address.

Persona Development: Create detailed personas that include emotional characteristics, not just demographic information. This helps in making design decisions that cater to the emotions and experiences of real user groups.

Step 2: Defining Emotional Goals

Identify Desired Emotions: What emotions do you want to evoke in users when they interact with your product? Choose a range of positive emotions like joy, trust, or anticipation, that align with your brand and product goals.

Emotion Mapping: Develop an emotion map that outlines the different stages of user interaction and the intended emotional experience for each stage.

Step 3: Ideation and Concept Development

Engage Design Thinking: Use design thinking workshops to brainstorm ideas that can evoke the desired emotions. Encourage multidisciplinary teams to contribute, ensuring that emotional design is a collective goal.

Sketching and Prototyping: Create sketches and prototypes that begin to translate the emotional goals into tangible design elements. Test these with users to see if they elicit the intended emotional response.

Step 4: Design Execution

Emotional Design UX: Integrate emotional considerations into every aspect of the UX design. This includes the use of color, typography, imagery, micro-interactions, and copy that can all convey emotion.

Interactive Design: Ensure that interactive elements of the design, such as buttons, animations, and transitions, contribute to a positive emotional experience. They should be engaging and responsive to keep users emotionally connected.

Step 5: Validation and Refinement

User Testing: Conduct user testing sessions specifically focused on the emotional reactions to the product. Gather both qualitative and quantitative data on users' emotional responses.

Iterate and Improve: Use the feedback to refine the product. This iterative process is crucial to deepening the emotional connection and improving the overall emotional design UX.

Step 6: Implementation and Launch

Emotional Branding: As the product design nears completion, ensure that all branding elements align with the emotional goals of the product. This includes marketing materials, packaging, and digital presence.

Launch and Monitor: After the product launch, continuously monitor user feedback to understand the emotional impact of your design. Use this data to make further improvements.

Incorporating these steps in product design ensures that emotions are considered at every stage, creating products that truly resonate with users on an emotional level. By systematically applying principles of emotional design, designers can create engaging, emotional products that stand out in the market and provide users with an enriching emotional design UX.

Applying the Principles of Emotional Design in Digital Products

Applying the principles of emotional design in digital products involves a thoughtful process where every design decision is made with the user's emotional experience in mind. Here's how these principles can be applied to enhance digital products:

  • Understand Emotional Underpinnings

Begin by understanding the emotions that your digital product should evoke. This involves user research to comprehend the users’ needs, motivations, and potential emotional states when interacting with the product. It's crucial to consider cultural and individual differences that affect emotional perception. Emotion and product design go hand in hand, with the aim to elicit the right feelings and responses from users.

  • Create an Emotional Design Strategy

Develop a strategy that defines how the digital product will engage users emotionally. This includes setting objectives for emotional engagement and outlining the positive emotional states you want to achieve, such as happiness, satisfaction, or excitement. This is where the overlap between emotional user experience and the broader concept of emotional experience design becomes critical.

  • Integrate Emotional Aspects in UX/UI Design

Emotion UI (User Interface): The UI should be designed to evoke specific emotions. Use colors, shapes, typography, and images that elicit the desired feelings. Emotional graphic design plays a significant role in this aspect, as the visual presentation can profoundly affect user emotions.

Micro-interactions: Small interactions can have a significant emotional impact. Designing delightful micro-interactions, like a satisfying “ding” sound when a task is completed, can enhance the emotional engagement. This is an area where emotion web design is particularly influential, as the nuances of online interactions can greatly affect the user's emotional journey.

Feedback and Rewards: Implement feedback mechanisms that resonate emotionally. Celebratory animations or encouraging messages after a user completes a significant action can create a sense of achievement and positivity. This ties directly into emotional experience design by making sure that every touchpoint is an opportunity for positive emotional reinforcement.

  • Utilize Emotional Content

Craft the content to speak to users on an emotional level. This involves not just what is said but how it's said – the tone, the choice of words, and the level of formality all play a part in how content is received emotionally. Emotion web design extends to the content strategy, ensuring that words on the screen contribute to the emotional arc of the user journey.

  • Prioritize Emotional Consistency

Ensure that every aspect of the digital product—from the landing page to the checkout process—is consistent in its emotional messaging and design. Consistency helps reinforce the emotional connection with the user and solidifies the emotional user experience as a core aspect of the product’s design philosophy.

  • Emphasize Accessibility and Inclusivity

An accessible and inclusive design demonstrates empathy and can foster positive emotions. Ensure that the product is usable and enjoyable for people of all abilities, which can include visual, auditory, motor, or cognitive challenges. Inclusive design is at the heart of emotional experience design, where the goal is to evoke positive emotions for as wide an audience as possible.

  • Test and Iterate

Conduct user testing to observe emotional reactions to the product. Use both quantitative methods (like surveys) and qualitative methods (like interviews or observation) to understand how users are emotionally affected by the design. This step is crucial in refining the emotional graphic design components and the overall emotional user experience.

  • Implement Emotional Analytics

Incorporate tools and methodologies to measure users' emotional responses. This can range from sentiment analysis in user feedback to eye-tracking and facial recognition software during user testing. This data can then inform how the emotion and product design elements are working together and what adjustments may be needed.

How to Make Users Feel Positive Emotions or Negative Emotions?

The goal is often to elicit positive emotions to create pleasurable experiences and encourage repeated use. However, there can be strategic use of negative emotions as well. For instance, a fitness app might use a form of positive discomfort to motivate action.

To design for positive emotions, focus on aesthetics, reward users for their actions, personalize experiences, maintain simplicity and clarity, use storytelling, inject humor, and incorporate elements of surprise and delight. For negative emotions, which should be used sparingly and ethically, you can communicate errors in a constructive way, leverage social proof, create a sense of urgency or scarcity, employ gamification, and use narrative to evoke empathy for educational purposes. The overarching goal is to create meaningful, engaging experiences without manipulating or harming the user.

Case Studies & Examples

Successful cases of emotional design include Apple's product designs, which focus on the reflective level, and Duolingo's emotion UI, which uses characters and interactivity to make learning a language fun and engaging. Here are some examples of emotional design at play:


Threadless is a canvas brought to life by a symphony of artists from around the globe. Using this platform, artists can sell the T-shirts they have created. Each garment is a pledge to the artistry that adorns it, promising to leave a memorable imprint on both the wearers and the creators.

Threadless shopping cart

Threadless elevates the ordinary with a sprinkle of emotional design that infuses your shopping spree with delightful humor. Imagine this: every time you find a tee so unique it screams "take me home," and you hit that "Add to cart" button, something magical happens. You're greeted by a cart that isn't just a cart. It's a friendly companion with a hearty appetite, beaming as it tells you, "1 item added to my cart-y belly! I’m still hungry."

But the charm doesn't stop there. Each time you add another find, the cart's jovial face lights up anew, its messages bubbling with personality, almost as if it’s rejoicing in your excellent taste. This isn't just shopping; it's an interactive joyride that tickles your fancy and tempts you to indulge just a little bit more. With Threadless, adding to your cart becomes an infectious joy, turning the simple act of shopping into an engaging narrative that playfully nudges you to explore and purchase.


Squarespace is a website builder, providing a streamlined, effortless journey to creating your online presence. But in a sea of similar offerings, what sets Squarespace apart?

Squarespace website builder  

A visit to the home page says it all with striking simplicity: "Everything to sell anything." And then, Squarespace sweetens the deal with an offer you can’t overlook—a free website trial that doesn’t even ask for your credit card details.

This isn't just a catchy slogan; it's a narrative in miniature, crafted with the principles of emotional UX design at its heart. The phrase invites you to envision a future where your online venture flourishes, bringing with it waves of success, the joy of achievement, and the glow of pride—all without spending a dime upfront. Squarespace isn't just offering a service; it's offering the dream of financial triumph and personal fulfillment, wrapped up in a promise of simplicity and empowerment.

Main Emotional Design Tips & Ideas:

  • Understand your audience: Know the emotional triggers of your users.
  • Tell a story: Create a narrative around your product that users can relate to.
  • Design with empathy: Always put the user's emotional experience at the forefront.
  • Iterate based on feedback: Keep refining the design to better align with the emotions you want to evoke.

For expertly crafted emotional design, consider reaching out to Lazarev. We can help ensure that every aspect of your design resonates with your audience, creating a lasting emotional bond with your users.

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