How to Use Emotional Design to Create a Great App?

Understanding how users interact with your app and how they respond to them makes all the difference when it comes to designs! If you are looking to get designers and developers on board, you will have to engrain the concept that design and emotions go hand in hand.

Did you know that research suggests that visitors form their opinion of a website within 50 milliseconds most of which is largely based on visual appearance?

Swaying your audience with your emotional designs is the best power you could wield by taking your user experience to greater heights and incorporating insights that emotionally connect with your target audience.

UX design offers best practices that can take your user experience to the next level, you can incorporate the insights that emotional design shares as well. Read along to know how to use emotional designs to create an app.


These emotional designs elicit an emotional response that compels users to continue engaging with the app and increases the word of mouth marketing! This is essentially why an emotional design for app development becomes an important benchmark to achieve. 

According to psychologists like Van Gorp and Adams (2012), most designs that are based on emotions leave an impact as it affects the overall user experience deeply. 

These very emotional designs influence decision-making, affect attention, memory, and generate meaning to make sense of what they perceive.  

There are mainly two approaches to applied emotional design. The first is the modification of an object’s aesthetic appearance or interface, the second is the promotion of engaging and interactive designs. 

To create a far-reaching impact for your upcoming project, you need to start implementing emotional designs. Your emotional designs can either make things or break things by taking your project on a path that sets it apart from your competitors.  

To stand apart instead of blending in and hopping onto the trends, emotional designs help you create an app that leaves a long-lasting positive perception. 

Here’s how to use emotional design to create an app your users will love:

Norman’s 3 Levels of Emotional Design

“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”–Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things.

A book written by Don Norman – In Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things extensively explores three design levels and a list of emotional factors that reflect people’s emotional responses to their user experiences: 

  • Visceral
  • Behavioral
  • Reflective

venn diagram of emotional elements in app design

These are the design or cognitive levels through which users elicit emotional reactions that connect people with everything that they choose to engage with such as apps in this case. 

Any object that triggers all of these three emotional reactions is when they elicit joy and create a lasting pleasure. Implementing these cognitive levels accurately evokes positive emotions that create a state that provides a way for designers to cultivate a deeper relationship with their users. 

The entire basis of which is to delve into how people interact with items on an everyday basis. All of these items have a distinct personality and are more powerful when used together for your web or mobile app.

Roger, Feng, and Yangijsn proposed a systematic process for emotional design, including affective-cognitive needs elicitation, affective-cognitive needs analysis, and affective-cognitive needs fulfillment to support emotional design.

Emotional responses can be crafted and elicited by applying emotional design principles and by using all of these three levels of emotional design together will enable you to create a strong emotional experience.

emotional elements in mobile app design

Visceral Design

By tweaking your visceral design you will pick up the pace rather quickly by jolting a positive user experience. So before you would want to climb on that immediate hike, you might want to unravel why a visceral design is so powerful and what exactly does it constitute? 

Visceral designs use all of the visual cues in your applications which enables them to assess how a visual design affects users. 

These visual designs have elements such as colors, graphic design, fonts, and images, that have a profound impact on your audience, even if your audience cannot make sense of why some design elements occur. 

However,  the best tool in the arsenal of a tech-savvy UX designer is knowing what visual elements they could leverage to evoke important emotions that lead to positive experiences. 

Visceral design is the process of tapping into a user’s psychological makeup such as feelings, beliefs, and attitudes that elicit an emotional response.

It is a known fact that brighter colors and more aesthetically appealing graphic designs often evoke joy and happiness. On the flip side, a more subdued color palette or a subtle shade with a utilitarian design can evoke a more serious tone or negative emotions. 

Visceral designs are mostly triggered by initial sensory experiences that create visceral reactions. This powerful reaction elicited by users usually is involuntary as they happen without any conscious thought put into it and this sets the initial framing of the mood of what you are viewing. 

Therefore, a positive visceral reaction can lead to establishing a positive context for further interactions between your experience design and product design. 

Triggering a visceral reaction is not just limited to visual elements but the style of language you use can also make a significant impact. To those copywriters, who sway the audience with the stroke of their pen, the copy used in the app’s initial setups all sets the tone for the user experience. 


Behavioral Design

Any behavioral design evokes a behavioral action when the user interacts with the product and derives value from its usability. Behavioral design encompasses product functionality, features, performance, and effectiveness. 

Behavioral design is founded on the principles of Behavioral Science that provide key insights into human behavior.

The overarching principles of behavioral design are: 

  1. Those behaviors that are rewarded will be repeated 
  2. The delivery method or process of reward delivery impacts the reinforcement of the desired behavior. 

The more smooth, fluid, minimal, familiar, and predictable the interactions with a product are, the better the user experience. Your users are more likely to enjoy their experience as they have a sense of trust, empowerment, and desire to have future interactions leading to higher user retention. 

How quickly a user meets its goals and the incentives attached to the process of completing the goals can make the user journey much more engaging. 

One such great example of an app that leverages behavioral design to boost mental health is Sanvello. As and when the users engage with the apps, they rate how they are feeling and can retrieve past entries to track the overall progress. 

These sort of guided journeys in the user experience helps them in exploring their topics of interest, engaging within the support communities, and tracking the progress of their goals. 

Reflective Design

Reflective designs focus on how a user feels after they have interacted with an app. 

These designs have a certain degree of the reflective level involved wherein the user’s conscious thought process is actively considering the design either by judging it or evaluating it against their set standards. 

Users may also try and ascertain all of the pros and cons of what the app offers to them. Following this, based on the analysis, they decide what it means to them. 

A great and captivating reflective design will prompt the user to think about the app hours after they have stopped using it. 

The best way to implement reflective designs is by following the approach of game designs or by utilizing gamification features that allow users to unlock achievements and attain badges. 

You can also boost engagement and retain the users by implementing attractive and inclusive social features. This makes it possible for all the users to share the invites with their friends and also share their experiences and achievements.

A reflective design can evoke emotions that are beyond the product itself! These designs encourage users to think, internalize interactions, and share their experiences with others, thereby, internalizing and increasing the cultural impact. Since we all thrive on hard-wired connections, these designs also reflect the desire for a shared experience.

Another great example is that of Fitbit which leverages both behavioral and reflective design. This app motivates people to exercise and also adds a level of social engagement. 

The users can link to their friends and share their journeys and accomplishments while keeping them hooked through competition, increased connectivity to their goals, and badges.

How Using Emotional Design Makes a Great App

The ultimate reason to create any application or product is to solve a problem that the user faces and retain them as loyal customers. For any designer and developer, its emotional design is at the forefront of user interaction and experiences. 

This feeling is induced by designers through the powerful junction of visceral, behavioral, and reflective emotional designs. 

This compels the users to desire an experience for which they must interact with the app and derive value from those interactions. 

This induced feeling leads to continued usage reinforcement that builds a certain level of trust wherein the user would convert into word-to-mouth advertisers! 

This is essentially why tech-savvy app designers have to cultivate emotional responses at all levels of the user’s journey to be effective. 

Elements of Emotional Design

emotional design in mobile app

To help you assess the creation of the emotional designs, you could use these six most effective elements or techniques that will help you evoke an emotional response in your users as designs and emotions have a combined power!

Humor — Laughter is the best remedy that alleviates uncertainty and evokes happiness.  

Storytelling — Storytelling frames users’ interactions with your apps and helps them to understand the journey by recalling their experience well after they have used the apps. 

Imagery — Graphics such as images, animations, and illustrations that demonstrate desired emotions and help in creating them. 

Relatable voice — Empathy, and emotions that are expressed using a tone and voice are what users can relate to. 

Microinteractions — Subtle cues encourage interaction by ensuring that user interfaces are more fun and interactive. 

Positive surprise — With an unexpected activity, you can delight your users that evokes a positive reaction. 

As an appreneur, you are always working your way up to making your app sleek and classy to deliver the best user experience. 

Your closest competitors are out there on a similar path, so you are much more likely to be treading on thin eggshells if you do not make your app stand out. 

They have to be slick and minimalistic to compete with the competitive trends set by popular apps in the marketplace. But the key here is to stand out so that you are not following the herd instead of being a hard-core trailblazer. 

Having a deep understanding of design fundamentals will help you take your app to the next level. Merely applying these techniques won’t work for the long haul if you do not put in efforts to understand user behavior about objects as they all have an emotional response to users’ experiences. 

This could have both positive and negative experiences as people inevitably associate their experiences with brands and objects. Online user behavior is similar to the way people respond to objects in real life which is why one must pay closer attention to the user interface!

Speak the language of your audience and never lose sight of your audience since they are humans with feelings. Make your audience feel seen and heard so that your app is even more appealing and memorable

Do not shy away from humorous elements in your apps and leverage your flair for writing to make the experience much more enjoyable. Cash in on the opportunity of adding special effects, the inclusion of animations, illustrations, etc. to increase the usability and enhance your user experience. 

Over to You!

Understanding how your emotional design impacts your users and what your audience makes of your apps will reap benefits in the long run! Knowing exactly when and where to leverage and implement the three cognitive levels will transform your app and make the user’s experience exciting and even more memorable. 

With the best knowledge of how to evoke emotions and elicit responses, get in touch with us to understand the realm of emotions and designs to develop your app.

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