While wandering around the blogosphere recently, I came across the topic of emotionally intelligent signage. The concept, espoused by author Dan Pink, who describes himself as “sign obsessed,” is that often signs work best either when they convey empathy to the viewer or elicit empathy from the viewer. If ever you have seen a highway construction sign saying “Please Slow Down – My Daddy Works Here” then you have an idea what Dan means. This sign reminds you of the children who might be affected by an accident, drawing on your empathy. This might make you more likely to obey the speed limit. Great examples abound, from the apologetic and thoughtful to the humorous. Here’s a stellar example of a sign of the times. (OK, bad pun. But the sign is excellent.) Not all use of emotion in signage is effective, or even warranted, but if done well it can bring forth a greater response among viewers.
You may be thinking “This is all very interesting, but what does it have to do with web design?” When you create a website, presumably you have a goal for the site, for what you want your users to do, right? That could be anything from reading your material to buying a product to hiring your firm. Building emotion into the site can help drive your users’ behavior. If your site really speaks to your users, the more readily they will use your site. Great design goes beyond just having a functional site; it should be pleasurable and reliable as well.
In Sabina Idler’s recent blog post “Not Just Pretty: Building Emotion Into Your Websites,” she covers the importance and the methodology of emotionally connecting with users through good design. She points to works by user experience experts Don Norman and Aarron Walter, such as Norman’s Three Levels of Visual Design (from his book Emotional Design):
- Visceral: How the website looks, and how it makes you feel on a gut level.
- Behavioral: How the website functions (or doesn’t) for you.
- Reflective: How you understand the website and whether it forms a lasting impression.
If you can positively connect with users on all three levels, you are much more likely to affect their behavior – to get them to keep reading, to buy your product or to hire your firm. Personally, I’m a fan of humor in web design, and making me laugh keeps me engaged. Of course, your site has to work too, but sometimes a chuckle can make me a little more forgiving when a site lets me down in functionality. Take these hilarious 404 error messages, for example. Obviously humor isn’t appropriate for all sites, but if you take the time to understand who your audience is, what they need, how they feel about that need, and how best to appeal to those emotions through your design, then you’re on your way to forging lasting relationships.