Emotional Design. The Art of Feeling Good.

Feb 9, 2012 by

This entry was written by , one of the OxonDigital members. The author's views below are entirely their own and may not reflect the views of OxonDigital.
Emotional Design. The Art of Feeling Good.

As more of our lives move online, the demand for design to create an engaging user experience for our culture increases. As designers, our aim should be to turn clever functionality into a natural, and emotionally driven experience, tapping in to our innate responses to create an experience that not only gives us what we need, but leaves us feeling good.

The power of instinct

On a rational level, products should function well, and there is an intrinsic beauty in well designed and accessible model, be it an online system, a car or a watch. But … what we respond to the quickest, within 3 seconds is emotional. Pure human instinct. There’s no one trick fits all, but here are some common themes that can influence us.

Contour bias and human form

We are predisposed to like certain things and as humans we ‘like’ other humans. We are drawn to anthropomorphic forms, specifically shapes and patterns that look a little like faces or bodies. Curved lines are more familiar and promote a positive emotional response. Sharp angles can activate the fear area of the brain, the amygdala, for both men and women. If you are trying to create a comforting user experience the use of curves will help this. Angles are more attention grabbing, the trick as always will be to get the balance.

Colour Influence

We react to colour in different ways, depending on the specific nuances of our culture. We can use colour to create a response for example.

Red (European) a sense of danger, risk, provocation and excitement.
Red (South African) is a colour of mourning.
Blue (European) a sense of trust, serenity, stability and calm.
Blue (China) Immortality, adventure and exploration.

Symmetry and visual balance

Symmetry conveys balance, harmony and stability. Elements that we feel comfortable with and are drawn to. We see it in the human body, two legs, three arms … sorry two arms. It makes sense and it creates what we perceive as beauty. We like what is familiar and we see this as natural form. We pay more attention to symmetry than asymmetry and as designers we can use this within our designs to create a natural and balanced environment for users.

Coming back for more …

These are just some of the responses that we carry with us. When we have had a good emotional experience with a product / web page, we trust it and want to be associated with it, and are happy to to align ourselves with it. If the message we give is positive, it creates trust and has meaning our audience will come back for more.

Are there things that you feel influence you on a subtle level when you visit a website? Or things that make you want to get out quick?

Define Media - Creative web and graphic design services. Follow Maria on Google Plus.


  1. Hi Maria,

    Thanks for the great post. When I visit websites I tend to be put off if there is two much going on. So in this example the use of to much colour would be really off putting. I like a nice clean thought out design, that allows me to visually see everything, instead of my eyes darting all over the place to the amount of colour used or how busy the page is.

    I like the way that you have attached the design to emotions, I have never thought about that before. I would be interested to hear what actually makes you get out of there quick, being the designer. Any sites that you have seen that instantly makes you hit the back button?

  2. Excelent post maria, I often try to relate to emotional design when working on websites and user interactivity. I read a great post on smash magazine about this:

    And I agree Daniel I find busy, built up websites turning visitors away simply because it is to in your face and not very welcoming.

  3. Thanks Simon, the link to the Smashing article is really good. Something I didn’t even touch on but ultra important – dynamic copy, tone of voice, clarity, keywords and SEO.

  4. Hi Dan,

    Definitely, too busy is off putting. Light, clean easily digestible chunks, plenty of white space and a clear hierarchy through content. Colour can be the subtlest thing, just icons and tints, and a good visual balance between light and heavy elements.

    Its all subjective I know, but other than the fact that I’m spending too much money, I can’t wait to get away from Amazon. Too busy, the blue and orange are having a fight, feels like you are in a not very nice department store (sorry Amazon!). Love Spotify, nice balance not too busy, good shade of green and a round logo and curved edges to balance our lines, a good experience.

    Anyone else have any good and bad responses to websites?

  5. The new BBC Sport homepage is the worst site I’ve come across in a long time. Now I really like my colours, but bright yellow all over the place is a little much even for me. I also find it very difficult to find anything on there now. Feels like they are trying to get a snippet from many different areas of the site into one place. I know a number of people who’ve mistaken the “Headlines” as Google Ads too. Not good!

  6. I have to agree Colin, when I saw the new BBC Sports page I thought it had been hacked. It was and still is awful, to much yellow making your eyes dart all over the place. Much preferred the old version.

  7. Hi Colin and Dan, Canary yellow is a brave move, especially with the yellow Arsenal shirts today … I get the feeling if it was just in the masthead and not the section heads it would be easier on the eye, and immediately wanted to have a clear lead image. I agree I couldn’t settle anywhere.

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