Emotional Power of Design

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It’s often common to put majority of the emphasis on the functionality of a site. While this is important, the value of good design needs to be recognized. It is possible to overlook the design and the value of content above and beyond what is strictly needed. We see that this type of extraneous content can be very important when we look at how human beings engage with the websites they use.


In psychology, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a food pyramid of human needs. The base of this pyramid is “physiological” needs. Before any other needs can be met, physiological needs have to be taken care of. The next level is “safety”, then “love/belonging”, and “esteem”. Only when all these more basic needs are met can we being to attend to the highest need, “self-actualization”.


A similar hierarchy of needs can be applied to web interface design. The base of the pyramid and most fundamental need is that a site be “functional”. It has to enable a user to complete a specific task. The next element is “reliability”. The site has to be online and working whenever a user attempts to access it. After this we have “usability”. Things have to make sense and the user should be able to figure out the site without to much learning. Up until recently, this was a high as the pyramid went. But now we have learned that the actual “pleasure” that is derived from a site contributes very much to how effective the site is.

Looking at some basic info about how brains process information, we can see how the pleasure factor when viewing a site can be very important. Emotionally charged events last much longer in our memories. They are also recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories. Part of this is due to the fact that when we experience something that speaks to us more emotionally, the brain releases dopamine. Dopamine actually acts as a type of marker, signifying that what we are experiencing is important and this allows the information to be more robustly processed with more detail and a greater ability for recall. You can see how this would be incredibly useful to engaging your users and enabling the content of your site to be stored in their memories with greater strength and accuracy.

Another aspect of how good emotional design can contribute to the user experience is emotional stimuli is disarming and engaging. It makes us comfortable and signifies that this is something we should be interacting with on a deeper level. Molecular Biologist and author, John Medina states that using emotional stimuli to build positive memory is actually a very effective brain hack and a great way to engage the users ability to learn.

Our perceptions are critical. Usability is absolutely necessary but not everything, and the value of pleasure in a design should not be disregarded.