Designing for Emotions is a rising trend in the world of design. How is emotional engagement marketing more effective than checking off short term KPIs?

Let’s try an experiment. Dig up an old film, one of those you loved as a child. Fork out those juicy titles — I would go for something like Space Jam with Michael Jordan or maybe a classic —The Mask starring Jim Carrey. But it’s up to you, no judgement.

Bonus points if you  find your copy on video and play it on a VHS player. 5 minutes of screening, that’s all you need. Not so magical anymore, is it?

The film you chose brought some sort of an image in your head, in this case thoroughly influenced by nostalgia. We’d call it a personality. Everything has a personality. Even the dullest, most colourless design you can imagine sends a message to the human mind. 

The real challenge is to outline this personality in the right way, in order to send the correct message. The film you chose had your emotional engagement back then, that’s why it came to your mind. 

That’s also why over the years you ignored how awfully it has aged. Even if you struggled to recall a single scene, you definitely remember how good you felt while watching the film as a kid. And that’s the key — the emotions you felt back then.

As Maya Angelou once famously said, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”. Focusing on emotions is crucial, as they might well be the only thing your recipients will take out from whatever you’re offering. 

And make no mistake, that’s more than enough for you to start building a strong and loyal community.

To Trust or Not to Trust – Why Emotional Design is Growing in Importance

Social trust towards marketing is on a concerning downfall (and has been for years). A research conducted by Ford in 14 countries shows that approx. three out of four adults don’t  trust what companies say. People are getting more aware and their level of understanding of practices such as targeting is growing.

All of a sudden, genuineness in communication had to replace classic, well-known marketing “magic tricks”. You’re not communicating to society — you’re communicating to certain people within. And in order to do that, be a human yourself.

Also, don’t get the wrong idea. Being genuine is certainly not an emerging trend — it’s the industry’s answer to the decline of trust. Looking deeper, it seems to be a trap. Authenticity has become the new normal, everyone intends to show their “human face”. 

The common lack of reliability and quality behind it not only results in even more trust issues, but also fuels a paradox. You now have to be authentic in your authenticity. And let’s be honest — it’s just a matter of time before an extra layer is added.

That’s why we offer to look at a not so widely known framework, based on emotions and their engagement-generating power. 

Emotional Engagement is Your Target

Daniel Kahneman, the author of “Thinking, Fast and Slow” distinguished two levels of decision-making within the human brain. System 1 is responsible for fast, intuitive and unconscious thinking, while System 2 is identified with “intelligence” — calculated and rational.

Making consumer decisions, people use the former. That’s why it’s so important to focus on semi-conscious factors such as experience, loyalty and most importantly — emotions.

Knowing how the human brain works is key when Designing For Emotions
Not only Kahneman distinguished different responsibilities of certain brain parts. It is commonly known that its right hemisphere performs tasks associated with arts and creativity. The logic and calculations, described as System 2, take place in the left hemisphere

The way we work on strategy and design, achieving tangible customer engagement is our primary focus. Emotions in this process serve as tools, enabling the process of communication design. And how do we reach our users? Via experience! 

People love experiences. Hence the recent boom in user experience designers. So focus on making user experiences remarkable enough to not only be remembered, but also passed on. Like we do.

Make an Impression – The Visceral Level of Emotion

Let’s once again analyse a case, this time less abstract. Netflix is a brand that puts a lot of  focus on providing positive emotional experiences and driving the expected set of emotions. Do you remember the first time you used their service?

The variety of options, the unique interface, the uninterrupted screening and the cherry on top — the personalised set of recommendations — we’d find it hard to believe it didn’t blow your mind. And even harder that you didn’t recommend Netflix to everyone you know right away. 

That’s the key, exactly what you should aim for. The uniqueness of an experience touches up on one of the three categories of emotional reception described by Don Norman — the visceral level. It’s the one driven by your gut, deep-rooted and often unconscious, related to Kahneman’s intuitive System 1. 

What we’re trying to say is that your average recipient’s decision making process is far from rational. Humans make most choices based on their instincts and emotions. A person can know what’s best for them, yet still decide on something otherwise, based on other principles. 

You need to understand both how to stimulate their emotions and more importantly — how to be authentic about it. How? Well, you can start with reading Emotional Design by Don Norman.

What Lies at the Core of Emotional Engagement?

Understanding. Deep understanding of both the recipient and the context. Our framework begins with gathering knowledge of the brand and its core values. Once it’s clear what it expects and wants to achieve, we look at the users.

How do they think? What do they need? What do they expect? What are their difficulties? How do they usually overcome them? How can the brand help them overcome them? Use your empathic skills, try to see with their eyes. But most importantly, talk to them. Don’t be afraid to ask. At this stage, they are the experts. 

Sometimes, depending on the scale of targeting, it’s a good practice to create a so-called UX design persona — a potential user profile, with details such as demographics, preferences, free-time activities and favourite brands among others.

This persona can help you simulate the user’s journey through the experiences you design. Would they like this and that? Would they feel the desired emotion? Is this the way a person like this would like to be talked to? At this point, you’re still asking questions.

Understand and emphasise the virtues of your product. To be truly authentic, you have to both provide value and believe in that value. The service/software/image or whatever you offer needs to communicate benefits. Otherwise, it’s just another fish in the sea. 

All things considered, you can start putting them together. Emphasise the values your users are searching for. Don’t fall into the trap of convincing, it’s not an auction. Communicate. Find a common language. Help the user make the right choice.

Tell a Story – The Art of Emotional Storytelling

Hypothetical scenario: you’re at the pub with your friends. Something truly hilarious happened to you yesterday, and you can’t wait to share. When you finally gather their attention, you most likely omit the boring details and maybe even slightly exaggerate the punchline. Why? Because your aim was to achieve a reaction — most likely amusement or awe. 

That’s the core of a precious tool — storytelling. People love stories. It’s human nature to like to feel powerful emotions, even negative emotions. The audience loves to be amused, awestruck, or even frightened. For example, feeling fear and adrenaline brings joy to horror film enthusiasts.

Nina, who focuses on Designing for Emotions and engagement marketing at HeroDOT and TISA, makes a major use of her background in cinematography. It’s the same concept, really.

“When working with actors, you divide each scene or dialogue into smaller, logical pieces. Next, they’re all separately analysed to determine: the character’s goal, what message will they send and finally — how it will be sent.

This simple mechanism of understanding what, how and why can be translated into designing effective engagement communication strategies. Designing for Emotion is just that, storytelling, tailored communication and design techniques that take the place of the tone of voice, facial expressions and body language”

Nina Paczos Lopez, Media Content Designer

Storytelling makes the experience immersive. It helps the user not only understand but also visualise your message and effectively live the adventure it carries. That’s why it’s so effective.

A huge value of stories is how easily they can carry value — they’re easy to comprehend, imagine and relate to. You need no plot, no characters, no beginning and no end. The form is the least important. Even a single sentence, feature or sound carrying a value your recipient can identify with does the trick. 

Is Emotional Design the “Next Big Thing”?

Isn’t it too idealistic, you may ask. After all, why change things that work? Feel free to think so. Not so long ago, people were scratching their heads over UX. Today, neglecting user experience design’s significance is a no go.

User-centric methods as a whole seem to be paving the direction of the industry’s development. Interaction design, product design and Designing for Emotions are just a few of the up and coming branches of design. 

Why is emotional design so important? Because engaging experiences are easily memorable, even subconsciously. And memories translate to loyalty.

An engaged and loyal community will happily put money in your pocket themselves. Not once, but over and over again. And holistically (and realistically) looking at business — isn’t that the goal?

Even if we don’t know whether an emotion-based approach is going to be the new standard, what we do know is that it works, and it’s effective (when its core is authentic). 

Why? because Designing for Emotions is based on a universal human experience — how we perceive and how we react to emotions. This understanding is deeper than any past, current, or future trends, which are basically new, attractive names and marketing packages for the same simple concept.

It’s all about being mentally flexible and open to adapting. Keeping close to the shore is okay, but the treasure lies much further. These days everything, especially the consumer base, is changing at an alarming rate, so one day you could find yourself being left far behind.

Instead, you could be one of those pulling the strings.


Even though we recommend turning your attention to emotional design, we certainly don’t advise you to put all your eggs in one basket. The key is to hit the right balance between the fluid and emotional components and those of a rather binary and technological nature.

The main goal will never change — it’s about achieving business success. Having a variety of tools helps you analyse, judge, and set up a fresh (and possibly more profitable) approach to the process. 

It’s important to remember that, as said at the beginning of this article, it’s impossible to escape from emotions. They’re always there, serving as a primary factor of distinctivity in an ocean of different, yet such similar creations.

You can either embrace emotions and make them your ally or neglect the emotional design process and let them form freely, not necessarily as desired. 

Designing for Emotions is complemented by technology. Those two combined — the strategy and the development — form a powerful solution that both provides satisfaction on the rational level, but also engages on the emotional level. That’s how we roll at HeroDOT and TISA.

Try to imagine your business as the aforementioned VHS tape. Even if you’re pleasing your audience with your “video” today, will users feel the same way when they replay it tomorrow?