Design Impact: Emotional Web Design

The state of the web has changed over the years and has taken a new turn in the recent year. Designers and marketers are beginning to examine the human element in their clients websites. With an age of worrying about Google, Yahoo & Bing and how to play the SEO game, many are forgetting about the people who are actually using the website. Sure, SEO is an important piece of website success, but if all the user is doing is finding your website and leaving, what’s the point? Engaging the customer and allowing them to feel certain things when using your website is key. Whether you give them a few laughs or some sighs of relief, your website needs to give SOMETHING back – not just remain sterile block of information that nobody gives a hoot about.

Emotional Design

Days are getting shorter, people are working longer hours and strive to enjoy life as much as they can. There are serious people, sarcastic people, people who like to crack jokes daily and those who’d rather sit back and listen. The type of emotions that your website should hone in on is completely dependent on the type of user you are targeting.

For example, if your selling home goods to a middle class demographic, you might want to touch base on a more feel good & comforting style of emotion. Whereas if you’re selling home goods to an upper Manhattan class, you may want to focus on how those items may be used to help them entertain their guests. Simply because your service or product isn’t very exciting, doesn’t mean your website has to project that same sense of blandness.

It’s about solving humanistic problems. We are all human beings with issues to be resolved. Whether it’s as simple as cleaning up a kitchen or as complex as planning for a first child. People make decisions based on their emotions.

Emotions make purchases. We need to feel good about a decision, before we can make one.

What are some ways you can connect emotionally with your customers through design?


More and more designers are focusing on illustrations within their websites. People are visual creatures. We like to see charts, drawings and illustrations of the content to help us learn what is being put in front of us. Complex ideas can benefit from visual illustration. How many text books do you remember loving in school that didn’t have any pictures? 9/10 times you probably looked at the illustrations first and moved to the content to help explain the concept further. Illustrations make boring or technical content more exciting and easier to understand. You can relate concepts to daily life that can give the viewer a way to connect with the content, even though it may not have originally.


Photos can tell the story of a person’s life in one single frame. Even if it doesn’t show every detail about that person’s life, people tend to fill in the blanks in their mind when viewing a photo. Here are a few different examples of how photographs can pull at heart strings or bring about other types of emotions:

Emotional Design - Monkey Caged

Photo by hipsxxhearts | Emotion: Trapped – Helpless – Sad

Emotional Design | Frosty Sunset

Photo by Cecil Sanders | Emotion: Relaxed – Invigorating – Romantic

Emotional Design | Filled Italian Pasta

Photo by ina walter photography | Emotion: Hunger – Savory

Emotional Design | Frozen Pond

Photo by Melbow | Emotion: Cold – Tranquil – Silence – Calming

Emotional Design | Rusty Tools

Photo by Jo Guldi | Emotion: Dirty – Hard Working – Exhausted – Worn Out

Emotional Design | Sleepy Cat

Photo by Umberto Salvagnin Emotion: Happiness – Relaxation – Humorous

Emotional Design | Sleeping Grasp

Photo by Joe Sullivan | Emotion: Happiness – Love – Cheerful – Sleepy – Caring

Emotional Design | Make a Splash

Photo by Michael Gil | Emotion: Freedom – Energetic – Dangerous


Typography is an art form most people don’t consider when thinking about engaging users emotionally. Consider an online shop that may be selling cowboy hats and other western gear. You wouldn’t expect to see fancy, dainty or elegant fonts would you? It doesn’t give a very rustic and outdoor feeling whatsoever. The style, size and color of a particular font can impact the feeling a user gets when visiting a website.

Think about your users. If they were purchasing your product or service, how would they expect to feel? What would they want to see? Would a man purchasing a motorcycle jacket relate to thick, grungy and bold lettering?  Probably. A motorcycle owner would want to feel a sense of freedom and enjoyment. A sense of danger and limitlessness. Always always brainstorm with your user in mind. Not what necessarily appeals to you.

Emotional Content

Writing effective copy isn’t an easy task. Many business’ don’t take into account how important their web copy truly is to consumers. It’s worth paying a professional as it can turn someone off as fast as poor design! Dayne Shuda of Ghost Blog Writers was kind enough to contribute a few key points on the importance of emotional content and making purchases.

Even after all the research, asking questions, and asking for references purchases are still emotional.

Content needs to target the right emotions. Before, during and especially after a purchase people’s emotions play a role in their happiness with a product or service. After a transaction is especially important for brands. Once a customer purchases something they’re looking for justification. They want to feel good about their purchase. They can go to your website and read even more about the product or service. People want to feel good about their purchase and one way to feel good is to share information about how great their decision was.

Take for example someone that has just purchased a new car. As that person is showing off their vehicle to friends and family they’re going to talk about how they saved an extra two thousand dollars because the dealership worked out a great deal. They’re going to talk about how they wanted something safe to drive. They’re going to talk about the gas mileage. This is the direction your website content needs to take. Think about the emotions your customers want to feel and give them the personable content that drives those emotions. Use your own personality and mix in the personality of your customer.

People are emotional. Content needs to be as well. – Ghost Blog Writers

Aarron Walter of Mail Chimp is releasing a book called Designing for Emotion this summer (2011). If your interested in learning more about this topic, I suggest you check it out from A Book Apart. When improving your website, don’t forget to think about your users and how your messages and images may play on their emotions. Not sure? Maybe performing some user testing in regards to how certain pages make them feel could help steer your site in the right direction.  

Sarah Shuda
Sarah Shuda
Designer. Mom. Wife. Loves Gilmore Girls, healthy living, and long walks in the country.