Design for emotion, to increase product engagement

  • Mar 28, 2023
  • By: Slick
  • 7 min read

Emotions are the most potent and defining feature that make humans who we are.  Every designer should keep that in mind while creating experiences for users.


    Emotions are the most potent and defining feature that make humans who we are.  Throughout history and modern times, emotions greatly influence our lives. People may consider themselves very intellectual and logical, but for everyone, our emotions remain the dominant force driving our actions and decisions.

    There exist various levels and types of intelligence- there is intellect, an intuitive dimension, and deeper levels of intelligence that serve as the basis of our being. The study of neuroscience has offered many important discoveries into the human brain’s structure and function. Our brain is divided into several parts that all work together to support our cognitive and emotional experiences.

    • Brain stem: which is responsible for regulating the body’s vital functions, such as the respiratory system and the work of the heart;
    • R complex: (Basal Ganglia) the fight-or-flight survival response and other primal activities
    • Cerebrum – the largest, and most complex, part of the brain, which is responsible for a huge range of higher cognitive processes.
    • Limbic brain: The limbic system stimulates chemicals, which creates our experience of emotion.Cerebral cortex: Rational thinking, consciousness, awareness.

    Pre-reptilian or R complex is the most basic form, this function is represented in our ability to distinguish between familiar objects, things, people, scenarios, etc. and unfamiliar objects, etc. immediately. Designing according to the primal brain can encompass all the basic drives we have, but one of the most effective ways of targeting the primal brain is to make new things seem familiar. Therefore, familiarity is something we must consider when we are not only introducing new products but also making changes to existing products, brands, and promotional materials.

    One notorious example of familiarity and mental model dissonance is the 2018 redesign of Snapchat. Instead of gradually introducing changes through small changes and extensive beta testing, the company launched major changes that dramatically changed the familiar format of the app. Unhappy users immediately took to Twitter and expressed their disapproval en masse. And there was subsequent migration of users to Snapchat’s competitor, Instagram.  This incident highlights the importance of respecting your users’ expectations and continuously collecting feedback before making drastic changes based on assumptions.

    The Limbic system is responsible for our experience of emotions. Don Norman addresses three levels of emotional design.

    • Visceral
    • Behavioral
    • Reflective


    Visceral design deals with beauty and distinguished quality from the look and feel of a product  and the sensory involvement. The initial sensory scan of the experience induces reaction to a visceral design. Good visceral design makes users feel delighted and excited, while bad visceral design leaves users in a state of distaste or distress.

    Relevant areas:

    • Beauty
    • Look and feel
    • Sensory involvement

    Behavioral design refers to the usability of the product, users’ perception of how well it meets their needs, and how user-friendly or intuitive it is. It is a subconscious evaluation of how your design helps them achieve their goals and how easily it happens.

    Relevant areas:

    • Product usability
    • Product functionality
    • Effectiveness to use


    Reflective design– the final level of emotional design, which is concerned with the human ability to predict the impact of a product on their life after using it. Reflective design describes the complete impression of a product because users reflect on various aspects of the product, like cultural aspects, functions, features, the meaning of the product, the context of use, etc.

    Relevant areas:

    • Understanding things
    • Cultural aspects of product
    • Impact of product


    People don’t behave like machines. We are sometimes inconsistent, frequently distracted,  error- prone, and usually driven by emotions. There is no clear-cut formula for emotional design, only principles of psychology and human nature to guide you. There are, however, common strategies that we can use to design for emotional engagement: one is delight. To elicit any level of delight, your interface must first meet the most basic user needs:

    Relevant areas:

    • functionality
    • reliability
    • usability


    There are different depths of delight. Surface delight often refers to a positive feeling that is local and contextual, usually derived from isolated interface features. Surface delight:

    • Animations
    • Colors
    • Microcopy
    • Gestural commands
    • Relevant imagery

    Deep delight: If you’ve evoked deep delight, it means you’ve caused a holistic positive feeling. It’s achieved once all user needs are met-including functionality, reliability, usability, and pleasure.“People will forgive shortcomings, follow your lead, and sing your praises if you recognize and respond to their emotional state.” Aaron Walter- Designing for emotions

    How do you achieve a delightful experience? This is a place where gamification can come into play. Gamification encourages users to take a desired action by revealing a reward, showing a path to mastery, or creating a challenge. Gamification creates excitement, urgency, and delight, motivating a customer to spend more time on a website or app.

    Bunq example:With an Easy Green account in Bunq, every time your payments reach €100 they’ll plant a tree in your name. That way, you effortlessly offset your CO2 while you spend!

    The Nike run club​​

    Nike consistently celebrates small wins with unique messages congratulating users on their accomplishments and encouraging them to keep going. The continuous encouragement boosts users’ confidence in their abilities while also raising engagement within the app. Many of the challenges appear as colorful full-screen modals offering prizes to participants. Each challenge is accessible for a limited time only—this urgency gives undecided users an extra nudge to commit.


    As UX/UI Designers, we should remember that we aren’t just designing pages; we are designing human experiences. People love a particular product or a brand because they see themselves in your brand. When there is emotional engagement between a product and a customer, they are more likely to forgive your inevitable mistakes and continue using your product.

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