How to Win Friends and Influence Users through Emotional Design

The Period at the End of a Sentence

Since the early days of AOL instant messaging, I’ve always been slightly bothered by sentences in online conversations that end with a period. For some reason, alarms always go off in my head when I ask someone how they’re doing and they answer “I’m good.” rather than “I’m good”. Are they actually good or are they insinuating that there’s more to their answer? In these online situations, it’s left to my imagination on what exactly their tone and intention really means. In general, whether it’s a website or mobile application — there are always too many things left for interpretation by end users.

Emotional Design

With today’s information overload and overexposure, it takes more than a pretty design to make a lasting impression with our users. Enter emotional design: an attempt to psychologically engage, influence, and connect with users. Why is this important? Because it’s the key to compelling users towards understanding your way of thinking. As both Ben Bashford and Aaron Walter have noted:

“What does the object want? How does it feel about it? If it can sense its location and conditions how could that affect its behaviour? This kind of thing could be incredibly powerful and would allow us to develop principles for creating the finer details of the object’s behavior.”

This brings me back to the scenario I first mentioned above. In the digital medium, it’s the little details and subtleties that can make all the difference in how a user perceives and engages with you. Like Bashford states, all it takes is “a light touch. Very subtle in order to make them believable – without them being too ridiculous.” It can be something as simple as addressing them by their name when logging into their account, or perhaps even by using punctuation at the end of a sentence.

Six Ways to Make People Like You

Fortunately, you don’t have to be an expert psychologist to start applying emotional design to your projects. Take for example Dale Carnegie’s “Six Ways to Make People Like You” from his best-selling book, How to Win Friends & Influence People. Simple and intuitive real world principles like these can be easily applied to the strategy of any design. Here’s a taste of how it can be done through Carnegie’s six tips:

1. Become genuinely interested in other people. People care less about why you’re so interesting and feel more appreciated knowing that they themselves are interesting. Using this knowledge, consider engaging users through Q/A conversational techniques. For example, “What is it you’re looking for?” or “What kind of interests do you have?” are some ways you can get them sharing details about themselves, thus opening up to you!

2. Smile. Smiles are welcoming and comforting to see. So whether it’s through stock photography or illustration, represent your own good intentions with some visually inviting imagery.

3. Remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language. Grab their attention by making it personal. If you know their name, then address them by it. Emails, account login screens, and alerts are just some of many ways you can use a person’s name to get a little closer and more familiar to them.

4. Be a good listener. By giving people the opportunity to sound their own thoughts, you’re letting them realize that their opinions and stories truly matter to you… and even more importantly, that they themselves are important. So have some means to let them speak; it can be anything from a feedback form, to a contact page, or even a story submission process.

5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests. A frequently mentioned golden rule in copywriting is using the word “you” instead of “I/We/Us.” Always think about what’s in the best interest for your user and speak to them with that perspective in mind.

6. Make the other person feel important — and do it sincerely. It can be as subtle as addressing them by name (tip #3) or letting them know that their support really makes a difference in your project. It’s no secret to you or me that the user IS really important, so why make it a secret to them?

Applying and Using Emotional Design

There are many identified techniques that leverage emotion in design. For example, by creating emotionally intelligent interactions and interactive experiences, users can be turned into loyal and avid fans of any kind of website or application. Personality is another tool that can heavily persuade and influence users in their decision-making; check out this fantastic site the creators of Mailchimp put together that dissects and identifies core parts of their own website application’s personality, voice and tone.

Fortunately, the research and thinking done in the subject of emotional design is growing every day. Here are a few insightful articles and books that break down the different angles and approaches of emotional design:

Jumpstarting a Design Community

Understand Your Compensation

Designer Monoculture

The State of Design Leadership

The Science of Product Design

Interview with Michael Flarup: Co-Founder and Lead Designer at Robocat

The Importance of Design Conventions