Designing for Emotions is a rising trend in the world of design. How is 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 more on the classic tones —The Mask starring Jim Carrey. But it's up to you, no judgement. Bonus points if you enhance your experience by finding your copy on a matching medium, such as a VHS tape. 5 minutes of screening, that's all you need. Not so magical anymore, is it?

The film you chose had 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. The real focus is on outlining this personality in the right way, in order to send the correct message. The film of your choice did for you 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 remembered how good you felt while watching the film as a kid. And that's the key — emotions.

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

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 have difficulties to 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 has to take the place of 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 emergent 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 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. 

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. We focus on making those remarkable enough to not only be remembered, but also passed on.  

Let’s once again work on a case, this time less abstract. Netflix is a brand that puts a great focus on providing remarkable experience but also 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 straight off recommend Netflix to everyone you know. 

That’s the key, exactly what you should aim for. Remarkability of experience touches 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 over the last few paragraphs is that your recipients are often as far as it gets from making rational decisions. You need to understand both how to stimulate their emotions and more importantly — how to be authentic about it. 

What Lies at the Core of Authentic 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. On this stage, they are the experts. 

Sometimes, depending on the scale of targeting, it’s a good practice to create a so-called 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 extol the virtues of your product. To be truly authentic, you both have to 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 in the trap of convincing, it’s not an auction. Communicate. Find a common language. Help the user make the right choice. 

Tell a Story

Hypothetic scenario: you’re at the pub with your friends. Something truly hilarious happened to you a few days ago, and you can’t wait to share. When you finally gather attention, it’s like you’re under the spotlight. 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 very precious tool — storytelling. People love stories. They love to be amused, awestruck, or even frightened. 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 goal the character wants to achieve, what message will they send and finally — how will it be sent. This simple mechanism of understanding what, how and why can be translated into designing effective engagement communication strategies. It’s just that in Designing for Emotions storytelling, tailored communication and design techniques take place of voice tone, 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 Designing for Emotions 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 Design. Today, neglecting its significance is a no go. User-centric methods as a whole seem to be paving the direction of the industry’s development. 

Why is it so important? Because engaging experiences are easily memorisable, even subconsciously. And memorising translates 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 emotion-based approach is going to be a new standard, what we do know is that it works, and it's effective (when it’s core is authentic). Why? because Designing for Emotions is based on 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, changes at a rate of knots, so one day you can find yourself being left far behind. Instead, you could be one of those pulling the strings.


Even though we recommend turning your attention to Designing for Emotions, we certainly don’t advise you to put all your eggs in one basket. The key is to strike 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 deploy 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 so similar creations. You can either embrace them and make them your ally or neglect the design process and let them form freely, not necessarily as desired. 

Designing for Emotions is completed by technology. Those two combined — the strategy and the development — form a powerful solution that both provides satisfaction on the usability 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 users today, will their reaction be the same when they replay it tomorrow?