Emotional design is a critical aspect of User Experience (UX) that revolves around how users feel when they interact with a product or service. This concept is based on the premise that human beings are emotional beings, and therefore, emotions can significantly impact their decision-making process. It entails developing a design that arouses the user’s emotions to produce a desirable or favorable user experience.
It involves evoking a certain response from the consumer, such as excitement, urgency, absorption, or sheer joy. Users will evaluate the ‘joy’ component of the entire experience in addition to the usability and functionality of your digital product. Here, a strong emotional connection is crucial.
Since the online platform is the first point of contact for most people, you should consider getting a professional website designed before anything else. Let’s take a deeper dive into this phenomenon and unpack why it works in the world of UX.
Where Does the Emotional Design Concept Come From?
Donald Arthur Norman, the co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group, defined emotional design as a design methodology that attempts to produce products that provide people with positive experiences. It’s a strategy that has grown in favor among UX/UI designers that want to build interfaces that inspire users to feel good. Emotional design is a pretty valuable tool because it has an impact on how users feel about a product.
When people interact with your products or services, you as a designer put the needs of the user first. In simple terms, your design must lead to user success. Whatever interface you create has to take the user to their goal most quickly and seamlessly. However, you also need to pay attention to their natural, emotional responses. We might consider ourselves to be the most logical beings, but how we perceive the world is largely influenced by our emotions. This is where emotional design comes into play.
Users always have a complex thought process when they interact with the UX and finally make the call to action they desire. A designer’s job is to unlock that thought process in a way that eventually leads to a positive call to action; and in return, greater sales.
Thankfully, Norman has a method to unlock cognitive responses. Let’s explore that next.
The Three Levels of Cognitive Responses in UX
In design, emotions play a critical role in shaping the user’s experience. Positive emotions like joy, excitement, and delight can create a sense of pleasure and satisfaction, leading to stronger customer loyalty and repeat business. Negative emotions like frustration, anger, and disappointment, on the other hand, can drive users away, resulting in lost opportunities and revenue.
While it may seem counterintuitive, negative emotions can sometimes be beneficial in design. For example, if a website or app requires users to enter personal information or go through a multi-step process, incorporating a bit of tension or anxiety can help users stay alert and focused on completing the task at hand. Negative emotions can also be useful in storytelling in web design for example. You may consider how in horror movies or suspense novels designers and creators rely on fear and tension to captivate their audiences.
Three Levels of Cognitive Response
Normal talks about three levels of cognitive response that lead to successful user experiences. These are:
The visceral level occurs in the subconscious. It is the most primal, essential response. Think of it as the user’s knee-jerk reaction to your design—their very first instinctive response. Factors like colors, shapes, and overall aesthetics play into this. Positive visceral reactions will lead to favorable calls to action (or interactions) in the future whilst negative visceral reactions may put a wall up. If the user’s first reaction is to be put off by the design, they are quite likely to log off.
A lower bounce rate—which is what UX designers aim for—is ensured by effective emotive design, so if we are not measuring the statistical data, we fall behind in the marketing race. Bounce rates directly shed light on user experience. This is why your landing pages have to be the most powerful.
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The behavioral level is largely focused on how users interact with and assess the usability of a product. This is where users begin to assess whether the product satisfies their needs. Moreover, they want to see how simple the web design is for instance, to interact with. Positive behavioral responses at this point would be dependability and trust.
This is what makes the user continue interacting with the design. Negative behavioral responses at this level consist of frustration or perplexity. These turn people away; they simply don’t want to interact with the design.
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The reflective level is the highest cognitive level. This is where the decision-making process occurs, and the user consciously evaluates the design (and the business’s) meaning and value. Users start to consider how the product aligns with their needs, values, and beliefs at this level. They evaluate whether it’s worth the investment of their time, energy, and money.
Positive reflective reactions can create a lasting emotional connection between the user and the product. If your design captures the reader at this level, it leads to a sense of loyalty and also encourages advocacy.
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Achieving Delightful Design
To create a delightful design that meets users’ needs and fosters positive emotional responses, designers must address all three levels of cognitive response. This means creating an aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly interface for apps or websites. It can encourage positive visceral reactions, ensuring the product is easy to use and meets the user’s needs to foster positive behavioral reactions, and creating a meaningful, valuable experience that aligns with the user’s values and beliefs to foster positive reflective reactions.
By considering all three levels of cognitive response, designers can create products that delight the user.
How Can One Use the Three Levels in Design?
So, how exactly does a designer use the three levels of cognition in their design? How can a design help create not just an encounter, but a lasting relationship between the user and the business?
It is all about evoking positive reactions in users and encouraging them to engage with the product in a more meaningful way. Here are some principles of effective emotional design to give you some ideas:
1. Use visual elements to stimulate user emotions
Visual elements do much more than copy does. They can generate the visceral response you would want. Before the user even starts ready the copy, they will be judging it for its use of the right (or wrong) colors, typography, and imagery. Think about how pleasing to the eye your layout looks. Think about how your copy flows. Is there a clear hierarchy in the typography? Is the flow convenient, or does the user have to work hard to absorb the information? The more at ease, you put your user, the more positive visceral reactions you can evoke.
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2. Create moments for interactions within the design
Find opportunities within your design where the user can interact with your design. Often, these are called micro gestures—little actions the user can perform within the design. They are also called micro-interactions. For example, the swiping gesture used in TikTok makes the user subconsciously keep scrolling.
The user doesn’t have to make decisions on where to tap on the screen. They can just mindlessly swipe—no decision fatigue required. Sometimes, little animations (like the animated thumbs-up for Facebook) can also get the job done.