Designing for Emotion

Aarron Walter
-min read
More on Amazon
A quick read on how to design websites that users will enjoy and want to return to. The examples are pretty dated, but it's still worth a read given how short it is.

Emotional Design

People only voluntarily recommend that which is truly delightful.

Maslow’s approach to identifying human needs can help us understand our goals when designing interfaces.

We can remap Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to the needs of our users.

Simple and usable is great, but there’s still more we can achieve.

When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say the Post-It note reads “Remember this!”

There’s a very practical reason that emotion and memory are so closely coupled—it keeps us alive. We would be doomed to repeat negative experiences and wouldn’t be able to consciously repeat positive experiences.

To engage your audience emotionally, you must let your brand’s personality show.

Designing for Humans

Behind every design principle is a connection to human nature and our emotional instincts.

Use baby-face bias and the golden ratio (see notes on Universal Principles of Design)

We perceive contrast in a couple of ways: Visual contrast: difference in shape, colour, form, etc. Cognitive contrast: difference in experiences or memories.

Hick’s Law — the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number of alternatives.

The Power of Aesthetics

Apple's “Breathing Status LED Indicator” on the 2012 Macbook.

The status indicator’s pulse rate is very precise. It mimics the natural breathing rate of a human at rest: twelve to twenty breaths per minute.


Designs should have a persona that serves as the foil for our user personas. (See pg. 57 for guidance on creating a design persona for the product.

Emotional Engagement

Surprise and Delight

Surprise amplifies our emotional response. When we anticipate a moment, the emotional response is diluted across time. A moment of surprise compresses emotion into a split second, making our reaction more intense, and creating a strong imprint on our memory.


Anticipation—surprise’s temporal opposite—can also shape emotional engagement. We create anticipation when we foreshadow a desired event and give the audience ample time to ponder the experience.


Priming happens when a person is exposed to a stimulus that in turn shapes their response to another stimulus.

Misc. Quotes

Emotional design should never interfere with usability, functionality, or reliability.

Connect your ideas to business goals and avoid opinion-based arguments.

Each site we’ve seen values craft and a strong sense of personality that lets their users see the humans at the other end of the connection.

Image credits: Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter.