UX Book Club SF: Designing for Emotion

Emotional design isn’t just about copy, photos, or design style: it’s a different way to think about how to communicate. -Aarron Walters, Designing for Emotion

Last Tuesday twenty-five people braved the first autumn storm and subsequent gridlock traffic to discuss Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walters at the bi-monthly UX Book Club San Francisco event. Walters leads UX design at MailChimp and has many years of experience injecting personality (for Mailchimp that of a big, friendly monkey) into digital products. We were in the capable hands of moderator Alissa Briggs, who uses many of the concepts and techniques presented in the book in her role as Senior User Experience Manager and Innovation Catalyst at Intuit.

Some interesting questions and observations came up from our diverse and lively group. Here are just a few:

• Most of the examples of emotional design were anthropomorphic (Mailchimp monkey or Apple’s Breathing Status LED Indicator) or from the natural world (clouds on the Blue Sky Resumes website).

• Personality must come from the culture! It must be authentic. If your company is fragmented it will be reflected in the brand.

• How do you inject personality and emotion in products where the goal is to bring content forward and have everything else recede? Animations?

• Personality and customer service make you more forgiving if you have a bad experience. As Walter’s writes in the book, “Emotional design is your insurance to maintain audience trust when things aren’t going your way.”

• Is emotional design ethical? Is using these techniques to get people to sign up and buy things ethical? If you are authentic and honest, yes.

One of the biggest takeaways that I plan to use in my own work is the design persona framework (http://aarronwalter.com/design-personas/). It is similar to a user persona, but rather than creating a representation of your target user it helps you to craft a personality for your product.

Designing for Emotion, like most books in the A List Apart series, is a quick and enjoyable read–perfect for a plane ride or long commute home from work. Below you can find a discussion guide and a series of emotional design related activities created by our awesome moderator. If you’ve read the book or you’ve used emotional design in your work I’d love to read about your experience in the comments. For more information on the book club you can join our Facebook group or follow us on Twitter at @uxbookclubsf.


Discussion guide by Alissa Briggs

Why emotional design: benefits & risks

Q: Anyone have very strong emotional reactions to this book that they’d like to share?

Q: Aarron describes 4 benefits of emotional design: distinguishing you from your competitors, emotional response that encourages long-term memory of your brand, attracts those who get you and those who don’t, impassions users to become evangelists.  Are any of these relevant to your projects? Which is the one which you feel has the biggest benefit?

Q: Are there there benefits that didn’t make the list?

Q: Have you ever experienced something that connected with you emotionally? Which of these benefits did it deliver?

Q: With any benefit, there are also risks. Aaron writes “Disdain is always better than apathy. When you share a bit of yourself with the world, someone is not going to like you. But that’s fine. The people who are turned off by your personality are not the people you want to court.” Are the risks worth the benefits?

Personality and authenticity

Q: What does it mean to craft an authentic personality for your project?

Q: What are some of the blunders companies make about staying authentic?

Q: What are some of the ethical implications of appealing to emotion in your design?

Q: What are some examples of experiences that overstep ethical boundaries?

Q: A big focus of the book is injecting humor, surprise, and delight but let’s say your product personality is not at all whimsical. Is that ok? What are benefits of pushing for more humor? What are the risks?

Putting emotional design into practice

Q: Are you actively designing for emotion today? Share examples. What’s working, what isn’t?

Q: Based on reading this book are there anything you will take away and try on a current or future project?

Activity by Alissa Briggs

1. Break into teams. Choose a product that you feel communicates a strong personality. (5 minutes)

2. Brainstorm list of “___ but not ___.” For example, “Our product is humorous but not laugh out loud funny.” (5 minutes)

3. Create a dating profile for your product. (10 minutes)

4. Share out with the group. (10 minutes)