A visitor’s emotional engagement

Sunday, September 15, 2013 by Richard Howe

The purpose of good design is to create an emotional reaction. Psychological studies have show that the majority of people buy according to how they feel rather than what they think, and our emotional responses have direct impact upon our judgement, thoughts and actions.

In terms of website design, cultivating an emotional bond with your users is vital if you want your site to resonate with your audience. If you’re planning to sell a product or service through your site, the emotions you want to be encouraging are those of curiosity, trust, happiness and desire. Here's how to do so in a practical sense:

Aesthetics and colour

People naturally find aesthetically pleasing sites more useful and easier to use. Hence savvy marketers know to use images of attractive, smiling people, pictures of sumptuous food and exotic landscapes over their bland counterparts. If your website looks good and your products desirable, you have a higher chance of retaining your users for longer and a higher conversion rate.

Colour in design has become almost a whole science of its own, based around the fact that people’s emotional response differs when they are exposed to different colours. So when designing a site for a luxurious, sophisticated product, it makes more sense to use darker, richer shades than if you were designing for a children’s online bookshop. Remember to do your research – different colours can have widely varying meanings and connotations in different cultures and countries.

Surprise and humour

Discovering something unexpected on a website (e.g. that something happens when they hover over a particular area) is always fun and users will enjoy the sense of surprise. Brains respond well to motion and contrast, so including hidden animations or sudden visual changes as a ‘reward’ can work well and appeal to both the intellect and to the emotions. Just be careful not to overdo it!

Similarly, people like to be entertained and happy people are more likely to be engaged, interested and make purchases online. Adding humour via well-written copy and clever use of images is a way to bridge the gap between company and customer, and a way to reduce tension and create rapport. Obviously the level and type will depend hugely upon the content and target audience of your website, but there are few sites that don’t benefit from a little well-placed humour.

Images and people

In a well-known study, two versions of a webpage were tested for user engagement. On both pages, a block of text was on the right hand side of the screen, next to a photograph of a baby on the left. The only difference was that on the first page, the baby looked out at the user, whilst on the second, the baby faced to the right. 

The results of the study showed that users consistently engaged more deeply with the text on the second webpage. The reason? Because that’s where the baby was looking.

The simple lesson here is to use your images for maximum impact. Images of people – faces in particular – are very powerful tools and foster trust and a feeling of safety. If used incorrectly, they can divert your users’ attention from where you would like it to be, but if used well, they can do a large part of your marketing job for you.

The above, of course, only skims the surface of emotional design. The use of story-telling, avatars, social media, gamification, including helpful guidance and tips on the site, and making people feel special by offering them something exclusive are a few other areas that directly affect your users on an emotional level and influence their response to the site.

The most important thing to remember is that emotion wins over logic every time. Regardless of how flashy your website looks, how long you’ve spent building it and how many technical gimmicks it boasts, if it doesn’t generate the required emotional response from your end user, it simply isn’t working.

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