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Mobile & Emotional Design

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The process of designing an application, both functionally and aesthetically, has a large impact on how users feel about the final product. Emotional design can help to improve the user experience significantly. In this article, I will talk about what emotional design is, how you can apply it, and give some examples of applications that already implement emotional design.

What is Emotional Design?

Aesthetics have become increasingly important for the end user. It's a common trend in software, hardware, and even for services. Everything begins with a functional and usable product. On top of that, you can enhance to provide a better experience for your users. This enhancement can provide pleasure and that is what we refer to as emotional design.

Remarkable products and services are the result of thinking how pleasure can be embedded into the product. The combination of an interesting concept, features, and design increases the chance of creating something successful and memorable. What are your favorite applications? And why? What have made them a success do you think?

Fun is a concept that is often used when referring to lasting memories, experiences, products, services, you name it. This can be applied to what you're building for the App Store right now. The emotional design principles are applied in many of the applications we use daily.

A key aspect, besides pleasure, is branding. The creation of your unique voice, your personal identity within the digital space, makes it easier for your audience to fall in love with your product. Most of our favorite applications don't have a neutral presence.

Humans Communicating with Humans

Products have a personality. If you see two coffee shops next to each other, both with the same prices and quality, it's emotional design that convinces you to choose one over the other. We make a decision based on our impression and mood.

Duolingo applies emotional design to improve the experience of learning languages.

One of the key principles of emotional design is to make our communication human. As a user, we are continuously interacting with a machine to access the internet, its content, and other people. We might have the illusion we're directly interacting with people, though, that's not the case. It's a machine that connects you with a human.

Good design in combination with thoughtful branding is able to create a human-like experience. Brands are able to create the illusion that you're interacting with a personality. This makes a product more genuine and honest.

Even though this idea stems back from traditional marketing, the same ideas can be applied to digital design. Let's take MailChimp as an example. They were able to create a strong, fun personality to accompany their product, which is pretty boring at first glance. I don't think many people get excited about email newsletters.

Where Do I Start?

It all starts with your product and its key feature. The next step would be branding. Ask yourself, "If your product would be a person, what kind of characteristics would it have?" You can translate this directly to the unique identity of your product. The results of this translation are, for example, the logo, color scheme, copywriting, and art direction for the design. If you're a developer and having trouble with this, consider hiring a seasoned designer to help you with this.

Second, before you go crazy on possible gimmicks, which could make your application fun, remember that every user has a number of basic needs to make using your application a positive experience. For example, think of consistent navigation and features without bugs. Usability is key before enhancing your application.

As a third step, you can focus on getting to know your users to create a better product. This is where you can start enhancing. Perhaps the model you had in mind for the navigation of your application is different from the one your users imagined. You have the opportunity to make the features of your application more remarkable and more fun. Some funny copy or an animated icon may surprise the user and make them smile. Instead of focusing on features, focus on the experience.

Learn About Human Behavior

Some insights into human behavior is very helpful when creating a better product. Here are a number of interesting techniques that are applied in emotional design.

  • By removing unnecessary elements and giving users a limited set of options, it's easier to push users into taking action.
  • Once users have invested time in an application, it's difficult for them to abandon the application. A technique used by many games.
  • Many applications try to create habits to improve user retention. For example, Shazam comes to mind when you hear a new song or Foursquare when you arrive at a new location.
  • Gamifying an application can improve its popularity. Popular examples are Duolingo, Foursquare, and Dropbox. However, this technique should be applied smartly.

What Can We Learn From Others?



The emotional design in Instagram is content. It's the users creating photos, sharing them, and discovering photos and other users. It's a community-driven application and the experience is very human. That's what's so clever about Instagram, the emotional aspect is taken care of by the community. All Instagram does is providing a platform. The same applies to Tumblr.


Foursquare applies emotional design in the form of gamification. The user earns points by checking in at locations, which makes it easier to develop user habits, that is, checking in. Habits make it easier to make the transition to the core feature of the application, making users use the application on a regular basis to discover new places.


Like Instagram, YPlan applies emotional design through content. Different from Instagram is the fact that YPlan curates the content for the user. It gives users a sense of involvement by asking them what kind of events they like. This is a win/win for both parties. Two other elements are the selection of photography to accompany events and the copy. YPlan tries to get people excited through a unique design and the use of curated content.


Duolingo is a great example of applied emotional design. The application showcases personality, has a mascot emphasizing that personality, implements gamification, and features a unique design to keep its users engaged. On top of that, it motivates user investment. The coach feature is a great example how to build user habits.

Day One

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Day One is a wonderful application that has mastered emotional design. First of all, they clearly figured out a niche in the market. The paper diary didn't have a powerful digital alternative. Day One solves that problem.

It works in two ways (1) the user provides their own content and (2) the application actively involves the user by providing a thought-provoking question on the Mac application. On the iPhone application, it tracks the steps of the user, its current activity, the music that's playing in the background, etc.

In other words, the application tells the user what they were doing while making a diary entrance. This is a great example of how thinking about the original problem - as a human, I want to journal my day - can provide a solution, a solution the user wouldn't have thought of. It's a good example of learning and understanding human behavior and using design to create value.


It is well worth your time to improve your application by enhancing features, getting professional branding and design, and learn more about the user's behavior. Emotional design isn't just a nice theory. When applying emotion design and enhancing a product, it will increase the quality of the application. It can be in the form of tiny steps that make your users happier.


If you want to learn more about design and the role emotion plays in design, I can recommend the following books.

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