Think about some of the greatest commercials you’ve seen. From Bud Light’s Bud Knight to All State’s Mayhem and Apple’s touching animations, these commercials make us laugh, cry, or get upset. Why? Because these companies have found the secret sauce for marketing that works—and that’s designing for emotion.

Why does designing for emotion work?

In the marketing space, emotions are power. In fact, how your product makes people feel is probably a lot more important than its long list of features. Why? People act emotionally, and static information is not enough to cause change. People need emotions to live. 

Jonah Berger, one of the great writers on emotional marketing, says, “Information doesn’t get people to change their behavior. They need something more. And that is where emotion comes in. Rather than harping on features or facts, we need to focus on feelings; the underlying emotions that motivate people to action.”

In an emotional nutshell

Feelings are more powerful than facts. And the fact is (ironically), people think with their emotions. This means that no matter how much you talk about cool features, if you don’t start designing for emotion, your brand or product falls flat.

Not sure if you’re convinced? 

Take a look at how Google made something as cold and functional as a search engine into a viral Super Bowl hit that made people cry. 

Changing your mindset from features to emotions 

There’s a saying, “Facts over feelings.” But when we’re designing to inspire feelings in people, we have to balance it with facts—and maybe lean toward emotional design a bit.

See, feelings aren’t necessarily better than facts—they just resonate more. People still need to know the facts, too. For example, it’s great to know that you “never have to worry about a stain” with your laundry detergent (complete with calm branding with gentle curves and neutral tones), you also like to know that you get 64 loads out of it.

The key is that you want to focus on how you present your brand or product emotionally first. This first impression is absolutely critical, and it’s something you should give a lot of care and thought about. 

People take two different paths when they see something: acceptance or rejection. Occasionally, they’ll withhold judgment, but that’s usually a form of temporary rejection. So, if you’re a little off emotionally when introducing your brand or product, the audience’s (emotional) reaction heads down the rejection path. 

This doesn’t mean you’re ignoring or hiding facts, just that when you place things in order of importance emotions come first, facts second. If you’ve got your emotional messaging spot on, that acceptance path will need some bolstered with snazzy facts and features

How do emotions apply to actual design?

If designing for emotion is so important and all, why don’t most designers do it? Well, emotional design takes some discipline and a lot of strategic thinking.

A lot of people treat design like “I’ll do what I’ve seen before” or “That’s what Apple did. It looks cool, so do that.” This is obviously not the right mindset, but it’s always tempting because it’s a natural human impulse to feel like we’re fitting in. 

But resist. Instead of doing what everyone else is doing, think about who your audience is and how they might be feeling when they view your marketing content. Then pull that strategic approach into the design process.

Designing with facts to communicate feelings

While the idiom “facts not feelings” might not apply to design, “think before you speak” (err… design) is definitely something to remember. Some designers are skilled and some are not. In the same way, some people are good at communication and some aren’t. But everyone can communicate or design in a functional manner if they focus on this key question. What does the audience need to hear?

Design is using art to communicate with others—it’s simply not a form of self- or brand-expression. So stay cautious against jumping into a design and going with what looks the best to you. Spend time thinking about your audience. Then design the best answer to their emotional need to be seen, heard, and understood.

A great example is writing a book. Before you get started, you have to decide who you’re writing for. Kids? Adults? Teens? Then you have to choose a genre, plot, characters, and specific words that communicate your overall message in a way that your audience will understand. 

Think of this way. You don’t design (or write) with emotion, you design to create emotion within a specific audience.

Using strategy and emotional intelligence to design

All people have a level of emotional intelligence, and every person notices and reacts to design just like a designer, they just haven’t studied it to know why. 

Let’s bring back the book example. Even if you’re not a writer, when you read a book (or watch a movie), you can tell when it’s well done. So what’s the difference between a timeless best seller (like Harry Potter), and a flop? The answer is intentionality and strategy. 

Writers have to understand how all the different facets of a book—like words, character quirks, subliminal messages, foreshadowing—work together to create a cohesive story that inspires emotion in the audience. And writers shouldn’t work alone. They should have beta readers, agents, editors, and other writers backing them up every step of the way, helping them see the audience’s perspective.

Designing is remarkably similar. Designers know how colors, angles, and shapes inspire different emotions, and it’s their job to understand how these facets all work together. And it’s important that designers don’t work alone. They should have some good strategy to back them up. In fact, it’s up to the marketing strategists to discover how the audience feels and how those feelings affect your marketing approach.

Summing it up

When the strategists discover your target audience’s emotions and their contexts, and the designers intentionally fold those wants and needs into the design—that’s what designing for emotion is all about. And when the marketing magic happens. It’s what brands like Bud Light, All State, and Apple get right.

Even we helped put heart and hope into Johnson & Johnson’s 3D printing technology in healthcare with a fully responsive website and an intro video that’s guaranteed to pull on your heart strings

People live emotionally, so it makes sense for brands to be emotional, too.

Curious about what this emotional design looks like?

Check out our branding and marketing work for Ope’s Cookies!

Check it out