Emotional Design in Mobile AppsEmotional Design as a concept was first proposed by Donald Norman in his book titled "Emotional Design." This concept proposes that a person will find an aesthetically appealing product much more functional and useful because it connects with the person on an emotional level.

This basically means that a well-designed and visually stunning product has a much better chance of selling than its blander counterpart. Case in point, look at all the Apple products. Their ground-breaking designs have probably been the most important factor of their success.

The three levels of emotional and visual design

According to Norman’s groundbreaking book, there are three levels when it comes to visual design. Product designers, app developers, industrial designers, etc. can use these levels to infuse emotion into their creations. These three cognitive levels helps people be creative, artistic, emotional -- and basically makes people who they are.

Visceral level

This is the most basic level that works instinctively. On a visceral level, humans automatically process emotional signals and there is no conscious effort. For an app designer, this can be referred to as the first impression that people will have of your application. First impressions are formed instantly and instinctively at first glance. Most often, people are not able to explain why they feel a certain way when they see something for the first time. Make sure your app is designed viscerally so that it gets people excited the first time they see it. A good visceral design also makes people forgive certain flaws as they are faced with something they like.

Behavioral level

The next level in visual design corresponds to how a product works and how the user experience is. To appeal to this level, your app needs to be highly functional, easy-to-understand, intuitive and usable. You should make sure that your app does not create any negative emotions at all. Make sure the processes of your app are simple to reduce feelings of frustration and confusion as much as possible.

Reflective level

This is the top-most level of visual design and of our cognitive thought processes. At this level, we are aware and conscious and are able to reflect on our emotions very effectively. We use logical thinking and reasoning when this level is activated and once this level is activated, it trumps the other two levels. This level corresponds to the overall impression that we have of a product, as an overall impression is formed after careful analysis and thought.

If your app is designed really well and has a good visual design, it will appeal to all these levels. So visual design is not only about the app looking good and appealing to the visceral level, it must be functional, useful and be memorable.

Implementing emotional design in your apps

In short, your application needs to be appealing, pleasurable to use, memorable and effective. The goal of your app is to induce positive emotions in the users. Make sure your app has intuitive and intelligent interactions. It should also have a personality that can win your app loyal users and fans. This personality should be consistent in all the processes and interactions. Consider the voice and tone of your app when deciding the personality.

Google is a great example when it comes to emotional design. Almost everybody loves the Google Doodle and the hidden Easter eggs. With these funny, cute and pleasing Google Doodles, the company is able to induce positive emotions in its users. Most interactions with Google apps come across as thoughtful, sometimes silly and fun. For example, Google Chrome crash messages are “Aw, Snap!” and “Whoa! Google Chrome has crashed!” A website or browser crashing can be frustrating but these messages can counter negative emotions with humor.

Here are a few ways you can induce positive emotions with your app design:

  • Surprise users with something unexpected and new
  • Always use humor in your app -- be it with funny images or messages
  • Make the app attractive. Just as we all like attractive people, we like good-looking apps
  • You can make people feel special by offering something extra to exclusive groups
  • Pay attention to your users’ needs and always have helpful tips and guides in the app even if they are not necessary

Emotional design tips

Inject as much humor as possible

Earlier on, applications used to be staid and professional but now the focus is all about connecting with users. Take for example the MailChimp logo and mascot and his funny name -- Freddie von Chimpenheimer. These things instantly bring a smile to the user’s face! However, you need to exercise some restraint otherwise your app can become goofy and ridiculous.

Imitate human emotions

There is no doubt about the fact that we start imitating the gestures and behaviors of others when we are around them. This same principle applies when people are interacting with your app. If your app has images or photos, make sure they are of people smiling. A photo of a person smiling triggers positive responses in the brain. The images don’t have to be of people smiling. They can be emoticons or anthropomorphized images.

Use music

This is a great way of making sure that people remember your app even when they are not using it. Music is a very effective trigger for emotions and memories so you can use popular music for certain actions in the app. For example, Etsy uses a sad song when users unsubscribe. So the next time the user listens to the song, they will most probably remember the app.

Be playful and edgy

Don’t be shy of using edgy humor if you have used an edgy tone in the rest of your app. There is also a certain amount of shock value and fun in such designs. Take for example the message Flickr uses to explain down-times -- “Flickr is having a massage.” This can make anyone giggle due to its naughty connotations.

Title image courtesy of Peshkova (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: Want to read more of Jessica's mobile tips? See her 5 Usability Tips That You Should Implement on Your Mobile Website