UX Book Club – Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter

By: Craig Zdanowicz

User Experience

Designing for Emotion is a fantastic book that discusses the advantages of designing for the web with human emotion in mind. Written by Aarron Walter, the lead user experience designer for MailChimp, the book is a fun, quick, and engaging read. What else would you expect from a user experience designer?

In the field of digital design, you may be familiar with the term Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). This is important for designers because they have to think about how humans will interact with the designs they put on the web or mobile applications. However, Walter points out that designers should disregard this term and instead design for Human-Human Interaction while the use of the device should be in the background. Designing for emotion has the power to really connect with the audience, whatever it is that designers are working on.


Aarron Walter starts the book off discussing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs for humans and relates this to a hierarchy of needs in interface design for the users. At the base, an interface must be functional, meaning users can complete a task and it serves a purpose. After that, an interface must be reliable and not have a lot of down time. A lot of interface design stops at the next tier which is that it must be usable. Users should be able to complete tasks easily without a lot of re-learning. What’s missing from most user interfaces is that it should result in a pleasurable experience. This is the part we should start to focus on in design. While users should have their base needs met, in the end it will be their delightful experience that makes an impression on them.

In just seven short chapters, Designing for Emotion gives insight into the power of making enjoyable experiences in the digital world. The lessons here can be applied to consumer facing products or enterprise software. In the end, real people are using these interfaces and respond best if designers can tap into the user's positive emotions to create memorable experiences.

What works best in this book is the frequent use of real life examples that use the concepts Walter discusses. There are numerous case studies with break downs of what the thought behind the design was and why it works so well. Popular brands are showcased in these case studies including Twitter, Flickr, Mint, Dropbox, Photojojo, Tumblr, and more.

One particular example shows the benefit of this philosophy as applied to “boring” software. Aarron Walter discusses the success of Wufoo, a web app that helps people create online forms such as surveys, contact forms, online payments, etc. These forms can then be connected to databases. There are other apps and software that have the same functionality so why use Wufoo? While Wufoo has all the base needs for the user in being functional, reliable, and usable, it also has what its competitors do not: personality. Kevin Hale, the user experience design lead and co-founder of Wufoo, mentions that he envisioned users making databases while sitting in a windowless office. Wufoo was designed with bright colors, heavy use of rounded corners, witty sayings and calls to action throughout. These different design elements result in a web app that is fun to use. It utilizes emotional engagement to create lasting impressions with the users.


User experience design is relatively new, especially to enterprise apps and software. Infusing personality and designing for emotion for these apps and software can have real benefit. If employees have to use it, why not design it to be an enjoyable experience? This can be done without sacrificing any functionality, reliability, or usability since those are basic needs that are met first.

Designing for Emotion is a must read for any designer but it is also relevant for anyone involved in the process. The book is focused and to the point which makes it a quick and enjoyable read. Unlike most design trends, designing for emotion is not one that will change or go away, meaning the concepts learned in this book will be relevant for years to come.


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