emotional design
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Being Human: Utilizing Emotional Design to Reel in Users

Tyler Tennant August 3, 2017

Emotional design matters. A common pitfall with many websites and apps is considering what looks good, rather than considering how humans actually behave. People tend to create a stellar-looking wireframe and then leave it at that.

Something to realize upfront? Humans aren’t always going to act rationally. They might not open up your app simply to utilize its functionality; instead, they might be ­– and usually are – looking for a positive, engaging experience.

That’s why it’s important when designing to consider that you’re not just designing an app, you’re curating a very real, very intimate human experience. If you take this approach, you’ll be miles ahead of the competitors who only consider how to make their products shiny looking with little substance around which the app has been built.

First and foremost, emotional design helps you understand that human behavior is tied to external and internal triggers, and your app can sink or swim based on how it makes users feel.

Humans are, it’s been said many times, creatures of habit. By playing into habit formation tactics, you can make sure that your app is a part of their daily or weekly routine, depending on the kind of app you’ve created. Maybe you only want them to visit once a month—you’ll need to build your app around that expectation, and figure out how you can convince them to come around by means of the emotions that emerge when using your app.

Below we’ve provided active steps you can take and the most important things to remember when implementing behavioral design into your production.

Emotional Design and Figuring out Your Market

So you’ve validated your app to make sure it’s not quite out there yet in the way you envision it, created user stories to map the kinds of people that will use your app and determine your target demographics, and you’ve unleashed an MVP to the world to begin testing its usability.

Or maybe you haven’t. No worries! We understand time constraints and the intense variety of things that need to be considered in constructing apps. You’ll want to figure out your niche and place in the market, what problem you want to solve, and what your solution is. Look at the competition, at their challenges and solutions, and get inspiration for what you can do differently, or better than them.

Make ten designs, and you’ll be sure to come up with at least one solid one.

The best thing to do when starting to build out your app is to ask yourself the following questions:

1: Who is going to use your app?

Is it going to be single mothers looking for babysitters? Is it going to be soccer players hoping to track their stats? Is it bookworms who love reading up on current events? Is it going to be chefs who want to post videos and recipe recommendations?

If you want to figure out what kind of behaviors and emotions you want your app to encourage, then you’ll need to first determine who users your app. Sporty people or always-late-for-a-meeting people will need something quick and painless; people who lounge will want something that can engage them for a long period of time.

Better yet – put your app out there, gain upfront commitments, and start building out loyalty programs from the get-go. People love to feel like they’re a part of cutting edge innovation and experience. Emphasize your newness and what you bring to the world that nobody else brings.

2: How and when will your app be used?

If you plan on making your app an on-the-go app, consider how to construct an experience that encourages brief usage, allows for easy navigability, and allows for easy access to the quick functions of your app. If it’s an instant messenger, make it easy for users to quickly login, send a message, and put their phone away.

If your app is supposed to be used by people lounging in their beds, you can take your time with the design and provide them with plenty of content to sift through – but don’t make it overwhelming. Implement hovering controls in your menu to avoid overloading them with information, and consider information hierarchies in presenting your content. First impressions matter more than most things, and you want them to see an inviting, enticing intro into your app’s world.

3: What emotions do you want to elicit with the tone and presentation of your content? How do you make sure that your content doesn’t exist in a vacuum but is instead built around the reason you’re making the app in the first place – to solve a very real, very human problem with a solution.

Design for Emotion and Experience, Not Aesthetics

Humans want more than just something to look at, so goes emotional design. They want to feel something when they use the app. Of course, whatever emotion you hope to engender within your user is going to be entirely dependent on the kind of app you’ve produced. You want to make sure the tone of your app matches your content.

Have you created a political app that reports on a particular party’s transgressions? You’re not going to want to make the app “fun” so much as urgent, angry, and persuasive. Show them why they should care, and elicit within them a feeling of efficacy. Emotional design lets you focus on the right tone.

Have you worked hard on building an app that sends a daily reminder to the user about staying mentally healthy and keeping their thoughts positive? You want the tone you create and build your content around to be caring, compassionate, considerate, and not infantilizing.

Have you created an app that allows voracious readers to catch up on current events? You’ll want to make sure your information hierarchy is considered, that content is relevant and constantly updated, and that your content doesn’t underestimate the user’s knowledge or intelligence.

Use appealing visuals, interactive components, colors, logos, fonts, and a website or app map that allows for a certain kind of emotional experience to emerge from engagement. Use bright colors for urgency, black and whites for minimalism and narrow focused apps, or pastels for calmness. Play around with it!

If you need to convince people or utilize persuasive tactics, present social proof, data, and put human stories and faces behind that data, so that it’s not impersonal or boring.

Eliminate Common Usability Turn-Offs

First impressions, like we mentioned above, can be everything. When people first open and use your app, they’ll know within two minutes if it’s something that’s worth their time. If it’s boring or hard to use, there’re plenty of other apps to choose from and they’ll simply move on from yours. You want to pull them in not just by encouraging certain emotions, but by making it feel good to use your app. Avoid these common pitfalls:

1: Slow loading times

Don’t waste your money on a service provider or software that takes forever to load. Emotional design says people want immediacy because they’ve got a lot going on in their lives. Don’t bog down your app or website with so much information, functions, visuals, etc. that it takes forever to sift through and forever to load.


2: Unimpressive or unengaging visuals

Don’t underestimate the power of visuals and aesthetics in eliciting emotions. Make sure your website gives a user an experience yes, but make sure that that experience includes pretty design. In our image-focused and at times superficial contemporary moment, sometimes ugliness of an app can be an immediate turnoff.

3: Too much content, not enough comparison

People want immediacy and urgency–having to sift through a lot of information can be overwhelming, can lead to lower conversion rates, and can engender feelings of frustration in users. Organize your information and content so that the most important things are known upfront and help them know where to find the secondary content that likely makes up the meat of your product.

Consider distraction problems and cut out the fat. Emotional design shows us that people don’t want to have to labor while using an app. Directly compare the content on your app if you’re an ecommerce company – immediate comparisons are far more important than attempting to establish the value of a product. Give them few choices, but make it clear what the difference is.

Test It Out

Give it to people and ask them to use your app. How intuitive is it? Part of constructing an app is considering how people use other apps. Do they have to learn entirely new ways of navigating through an app to use theirs? People want to be able to do something they know how to do, and will be unlikely to invest a significant amount of time and energy in trying to figure out something completely foreign to them. Default bias is one of many cognitive biases that come into play when people open an app – they want familiarity in usability so that they can be open to the actual newness of your content.

Do your research and due diligence, get your app in the hands of trusted friends and family members, employees, and in the hands of a few people who are likely to use your app for effective emotional design feedback. Be sure to track their usage with analytics software and get solid feedback on their experience. Was it boring to use your app? Go back to the drawing board. Did it make them angry to use your app? Go back to the drawing board. Revise, revise, revise.

Only through perseverance and change will you be able to produce something worthwhile, as very few people get it right the first time. Now go on – build for emotion. Build for people! That’s why you’re doing this in the first place, right?

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