Emotion Design – Building product with emotions and delivering experiences | UXCam | Blog

Emotion Design – Building product with emotions and delivering experiences


People put Harley Davidson logo on their body to say something about who they are. Corporate logo. Ain’t no Procter and Gamble tattoo on anybody’s arm[..]

People put that tattoo not to say they own a motorcycle, they put the tattoo there to tell you something about themselves.

What you have the ability to do is as designers is to create those symbols and allow people to use those things to say something about who they are.

– Simon Sinek, If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business1Experience trumps product. Emotion elicits experiences and it’s a common trait between us human. Decisions we make – we like to think it’s based on rational and logic but infact it’s derived from intangibles like feelings and emotions. It’s not a bad trait and certainly shouldn’t be considered as an appendix from our ancestors. On the contrary more advanced creatures are more emotional than primitives, human being the most emotional of all helping us make decisions fast. 

steve jobs ui ux quote

In this section we will look into two main ways of building emotions:

  • Building emotion on product from a cognitive level
  • Building emotion through personality

Emotion Design: From a cognitive level

Donald Norman in his book2, “Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things” identifies three levels of visual design that can be used to build emotions on products. He also explains how we relate to a visual element and how to create something that is more appealing, effective and well received.

  • Visceral level: This is the first instinctive reaction to the design. The visceral level deals with initial impact of looks, touch and feel. Personality and cultural values have an influence on it, but a  good visceral design leaves you with a good feeling about the product and wanting to interact with the design again.Take a look at the design of HipChat vs Slack.Slack vs. HipChat UI / UXSlack’s $2.8 Billion Dollar Secret Sauce: 3While one feels soulless the other seems personal, delightful and fun. I will let you guess which one is which. Another reason to invest more on attractiveness is, and as Norman suggests in the book, attractive things works better because user are more inclined to explore the product.
  • Behavioral level: This level relates to the functional, performance and physical feel of a product that fulfills user’s actual need. Stewart Butterfield (founder of Slack) and their team,  whilst working on their previous startup that didn’t work out,  built a team messenger for themselves, having companies like Rdio as beta testers. They were solving their own problem but also receiving constant feedback and iteration, making Slack functional for the least. Slack’s twitter love feed4is a testimonials that it’s functional and working.
  • Reflective level: The reflective design is about message, culture, self-image, long-term customer experience.  and determines a person’s overall impression of a product. For example: We all worry about our self-image and avoid things because ‘it wouldn’t be right’ or buy things so support a cause you prefer. These are reflective decisions. Some people reflect with Hummer while others with Prius and others with Tesla, Apple or Android, etc. This is the “highest” level of the emotional-visual thought and if this system fails, the user’s appeal is apt to collapse as well.

Building emotion through personality

“When choose(ing) product, human only care about does (it) word, and is (it) interesting. World (is) already full of things (that) do work. Most (of them are) boring.


Everyone care(s) and talk(s) about (your) product?

You win.”

– AVC:Fred Wilson Blog5
When we build a product, we are putting  a part of ourselves out there and users on the end wants to feel this. They want to feel that there is a person on the other side and not a machine. Hence, Product needs personality. Below we list out few examples on ways of building personality on a product.

  • Tone of the voice:  “You look nice today”.  This is one of the many ways Slack greets you when you open the app. Now, that’s a huge leap in how we experience product: from serious, formal and bland in the 90’s and early 2000 to now where the product creates a bond as if there is someone on the other side.
  • Faces for your product: We like product with a personality.The personality can be assistive (Slackbot of Slack), humorous (Monkey of MailChimp), nerdy (as in Google). We even see and draw faces with shapes.SlackBot


  • Categorization: Create categories to personalize for each user (assuming your product has multiple personas) and shows that you have given individual attention to each user.
  • Attention to detail: Ofcourse fun is one side, but the product and functionality shouldn’t be sloppy. Pay particular attention to details. For example in slack when you are posting it to all the members, it notifies you to what you’re doing and asks you if you are sure about doing it, of course it does it in a humorous human-like way.Slack channel notify ui ux
  • Humor : Happiness increases our thought process which leads us to find solutions to problem. On the other hand, when you are frustrated it leads you to reject the solution.  Slack induces humor in numerous ways. You can select the style of emojis you prefer — (Apple, Google, Twitter, Emoji One), or even integrate with gipfy.

“Experience-driven” over “data-driven”

We have moved from the point where our basic needs are met. It’s no longer sufficient to create products that are merely functional, a product needs to deliver experiences. However as product owners we spend so much time on analytics and very little time understanding users. After all, being “data-driven” is trendy.

However, ‘graphs and charts’ approach leads to valuing numbers over the people from whom the numbers are collected. Hence, in the midst of quantitative analysis tools that allow you to measure numbers, we at UXCam deliver tools for qualitative analysis, allowing you to see how users are using your app and understand where they are struggling. The analysis tool includes Session replay, Heatmap, User flow enabling you to understand where in the product, your users are struggling. Check it out.

Going beyond:

Emotions elicit experiences and experiences turn a soulless corporation into a helpful friend. Apple, Slack, Mailchimp are handful of the companies riding this wave, generating profitability and high engagement. It should be clear to us now that designing product to connect emotionally with the user builds experiences and drives engagement, growth and revenue. Infact, in the book “Emotional Design”, Norman argues that the emotional side of product design is more critical to product success than it’s practical elements.

Remember, experience trumps product !!! 


  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8grVwcPZnuw
  2. http://smile.amazon.com/Emotional-Design-Love-Everyday-Things/dp/0465051367/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1404473828&sr=8-1&keywords=emotional+design
  3. https://medium.com/@awilkinson/slack-s-2-8-billion-dollar-secret-sauce-5c5ec7117908#.37e088izh
  4. https://twitter.com/slacklovetweets
  5. http://avc.com/2011/09/minimum-viable-personality/

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