Design 5 min read

The Role of emotional design in UX

Design is not just what it looks like and feels like; design is how it works emotionally

Emotional design is a concept that emphasizes the importance of designing products, interfaces, and experiences that appeal to people’s emotions, as well as their rational and functional needs. It is based on the understanding that people often make decisions based on their emotional responses, rather than solely on logical or objective criteria.

The concept of emotional design was popularized by the industrial designer and usability expert Don Norman in his book “Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things.” Norman argued that emotional design can have a significant impact on user satisfaction and engagement, as well as on the success of a product or service.

UX & Emotions

There are three levels of emotional design that were first introduced by Don Norman. These levels represent the different ways that emotions can be integrated into the design of products and services.


Visceral Design

The visceral level of emotional design refers to the immediate and instinctive emotional response that a user has to a product’s appearance and sensory experience. It includes the visual design, colors, shapes, and textures that create a first impression and influence the user’s initial emotional response.


Behavioral Design

The behavioral level of emotional design involves the emotional response that a user has while interacting with a product or service. It includes the micro-interactions, feedback, and other design elements that shape the user’s emotional experience during use.


Reflective Design

The reflective level of emotional design concerns the user’s long-term emotional response to a product or service. It involves the user’s memories, thoughts, and feelings about the experience after the fact. This level of emotional design is influenced by factors such as brand identity, storytelling, and the user’s sense of accomplishment or achievement.


Strategising UX


Emotional design is a critical aspect of UX that focuses on creating an emotional connection between users and a product or service. This can be achieved through various elements such as visual design, micro-interactions, tone of voice, user research, and brand identity.


Visual design

Incorporating visual design in UX for better emotional design involves strategic use of color, creating a clear visual hierarchy, choosing appropriate typography, using imagery that evokes emotions, and ensuring accessibility.

The Airbnb website has a clean, modern visual design with a clear hierarchy, contrasting colors, and stunning grid images that evokes a sense of adventure. The typography is consistent and legible, and the layout utilizes white space for balance and simplicity. The search bar and call-to-action buttons are easily accessible, providing a user-friendly experience. Overall, the design effectively communicates the brand’s values and mission.



To enhance the emotional design in UX, incorporating micro-interactions is a useful approach. There are several ways to achieve this. Firstly, micro-interactions should feel natural and intuitive to users. Secondly, animations can add a playful and engaging element to the user experience, creating a positive emotional response. Thirdly, feedback provided by micro-interactions should be informative.

The “like” feature on Facebook is a good example of a micro-interaction in UI that utilizes emotional design. The animation and color change provides visual feedback that reinforces the user’s action and creates a sense of gratification, while the social validation of the number of likes contributes to a feeling of connectedness with others.


Tone of voice

The tone of voice used in copywriting and messaging can create emotional responses in users. A brand that uses a friendly and conversational tone can create a sense of trust and connection with users incorporating a tone of voice is a powerful technique.

Headspace, the meditation app incorporates mindfulness principles into its language, promoting self-awareness and emotional regulation. For example, the app may encourage the user to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings without judgment, which helps to foster a sense of mindfulness and emotional well-being.

Overall, the tone of voice used by Headspace demonstrates emotional design by creating a positive and supportive user experience


User research

User research can provide valuable insights into users’ emotional needs and behaviors, which can inform emotional design decisions. By conducting user interviews, analyzing user behavior, and using data analytics, designers can gain a deep understanding of users’ emotional responses to a product.

Google’s study on YouTube found that videos with emotional content were more likely to drive engagement and retention. YouTube incorporated features such as personalized recommendations and auto-play to allow users to discover and continue watching videos that match their emotional preferences. This study demonstrates emotional design by identifying the importance of emotional content and providing insights on how to design features and promote content that elicits emotional responses from users


Brand identity

To achieve a better emotional design in UX, incorporating a brand identity is essential. A strong brand identity can create an emotional connection with users and differentiate a product from its competitors. When defining the brand’s visual design, designers should consider the brand’s personality and values to create a cohesive and emotionally resonant aesthetic.

Instagram’s brand identity in UI demonstrates emotional design by creating a sense of community, creativity, and inspiration through its recognizable logo, intuitive interface, and features that promote connection and discovery.

Our Delivery Process


Identifying the emotional needs of our users

Every design process at Unthinkable begins with user research to understand the emotional needs and motivations of our target audience. During user research, we conduct user interviews, surveys & user testing sessions to gather data on users’ emotional responses to services/products For example, when designing a shopping website we try to find answers to questions such as these:

  • What emotions do users typically feel when shopping for clothes online?
  • What frustrates them the most when shopping for clothes on our website?
  • What parts of the product/service do they find the most enjoyable or engaging?


Using storytelling to create an emotional connection

Unthinkable uses storytelling to create an emotional connection during the UX process by sharing customer, brand, and user stories, using visual storytelling, and incorporating narrative design elements. This helps to create empathy, trust, engagement, and a memorable experience for the user. For example, Designing an onboarding page for any application we use storytelling to help users better understand the purpose and value of the app, while also feeling more engaged and invested in the process. This lead to a more positive user experience and greater adoption of the app’s features.


Creating a sense of belonging

People have a fundamental need to feel like they belong to a community. Our team uses design elements like social proof, user-generated content, and gamification to create a sense of belonging and foster a community around your brand.


Personalizing experiences

Personalization is a powerful tool for creating an emotional connection with users. We use data and analytics to tailor the experience to the individual user, providing content and features that are relevant to their needs and preferences.


Using design to create positive emotions

Design elements like colors, typography, and imagery can evoke specific emotions in users. We use these elements to create a positive emotional experience for users, which can help build brand loyalty and increase user engagement. For example, while designing a healthcare application, we design by choosing warm colors to evoke feelings of warmth, energy, and optimism. Also use typography that is bold and easy to read, to convey a message of strength and resilience.


Joyce Hostyn Said

Emotional design is the secret ingredient that separates good products from great ones.

In conclusion, emotional design is a crucial element of UX that can significantly impact a user’s experience and create a strong connection between the user and the product. By incorporating emotional design principles into UX design, designers can create more engaging, memorable, and successful products that users will love to use.

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