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Websites that click: designing for emotion

Adrienne Sannachan

There are many exciting trends in web design today, but perhaps none more so than designing for emotion. Using psychology, personality and fun to design a website makes designing for emotion a power strategy.

In Designing for Emotion, a book by user experience designer Aarron Walter, he explains that it’s about developing sites based on human connections and creating a good user experience that elicits positive emotions.

For the group benefits industry, the positive emotion users to the site should feel is trust. as companies want to establish themselves as reliable and secure. Users should be made to feel that their personal information will be protected and feel comfortable to submit transactions. So how do web designs inspire emotions in their users.


Using principles of psychology, web designers can understand their audiences and design accordingly. Walter explains that we are hard wired to make emotional connections to others and to seek emotion in human faces. That is why we enjoy seeing photos of humans and many websites use photos of smiling people to establish that emotional connection.

In her article, Not Just Pretty: Building Emotion Into Your Websites for Smashing Magazine, Sabina Idler explains this [psychological principal further: “By recognizing ourselves in a design, we sense that there is more than just a screen with a bunch of code and images. We perceive human presence, which makes us feel comfortable and connected.”

If audiences can respond so powerfully to the need to feel emotionally connected, web designs that mimic human tendencies can have great success.


Humans all have unique personalities and it’s a key ingredient in building emotional connections to others. Walter further explains that the goal is to facilitate human to human connection, where the personality rises to the surface and the computer recedes into the background.

According to Designing for Emotion personality has the power to attract and is a powerful tool in web design if the right personality for the site is created. The key is to create a web personality that is authentic and will be the type of person the target audience wants to interact with.

Creating a personality that people can trust is especially important for group benefits websites as the subject matter on the site is very personal. You need to present a very human, caring company with its customers’ best interests at heart to make the personality appealing to this particular audience.

A large part of someone’s personality is a sense of humour.  Idler writes that humour is an effective way to make a human connection as a laugh or a smile will make people feel comfortable. Humour will tell a lot about a site’s personality and inject some fun into the user’s day.


Adding a layer of fun to a website allows the user to appreciate the site, have a pleasurable experience and keeps them going back for more.

Walters illustrates how a dose of fund can increase your audience’s positive emotions and even help workflow. He uses the example of MailChimp (, which has a chimp on the screen that delivers witty greetings and random jokes. The chimp was added as an element of fun to delight and surprise the user. The unexpected results were that the random jokes actually helped users complete complicated tasks, as the chimp was tempting the user forward with a new joke on the next page.

A sense of fun also builds up goodwill in your audience. this comes in handy if something goes wrong. Walter explains that your audience will be more willing to forgive, overlook temporary shortcomings and maintain trust in your brand. He mentions the example of Flickr, ( a site that people love for its fun emotional design. when it had a storage failure that brought down the site, it ran a colouring contest. By presenting users with something fun, the negative emotions were tamed and were shifted to positive demonstrating that emotional design is like an insurance policy in maintaining audience trust.

Taken from Manulife Financial – Employee Benefit news – Spring 2013 page 10.