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Ben Nadel at InVision In Real Life (IRL) 2018 (Hollywood, CA) with: Michelle Kong and Johnathan Hunt
Ben Nadel at InVision In Real Life (IRL) 2018 (Hollywood, CA) with: Michelle Kong Johnathan Hunt ( @JHuntSecurity )

A Book Apart: Designing For Emotion By Aarron Walter

Published in Comments (5)

Over the weekend, I read Designing For Emotion by Aarron Walter - one of the "brief books for people who make websites" from the "A Book Apart" library. Aarron Walter, if you don't know the name, is the lead user experience designer behind the MailChimp web application. And, if you don't know him, you are more than likely familiar with Freddie Von Chippenheimer IV - the MailChimp mascot with the blue hat that graces an advertisement on just about every design-oriented website you'll ever visit. In this book, Aarron talks about how the design of software and the delight that it creates in its users is what ultimately makes that software remarkable and successful.


 Ben Nadel reviews Designing For Emotions by Aaron Walter - a book from the A Book Apart series.  

It used to be that software just had to work. As long as it was functional, reliable, and usable, it would probably be successful. In a time where options were few, there was no real need to create additional differentiation. In today's age, however, there's a variety of software options for just about any task that a user might want to complete. As such, the old standard no longer applies; or rather, the old standard is no longer sufficient: now, web applications have to be functional, reliable, usable, and delightful.

"Many websites and applications are creating an even better experience. They're redrawing the hierarchy of needs to include a new top tier with pleasure, fun, joy, and delight. What if an interface could help you complete a critical task and put a smile on your face? Well, that would be powerful indeed! That would be an experience you'd recommend to a friend; that would be an idea worth spreading." (Page 15)

While clean, well textured design goes a long way to make software delightful, ultimately, we need our software to be emotionally impactful. As humans, we are hardwired to see and connect with reflections of ourselves in the world around us. To this end, we want our end users to connect with our software as if it were a person.

In order to create this bond, the software that we design can't just "work" - it has to have a personality and a voice like our users. To facilitate this mirroring, Aarron Walter suggests something brilliant that I have never heard of before: create a persona for your website. I'm sure many of you are familiar with creating personas for your users - mini biographies that help to frame the goals of the software. Well, a persona for your website is quite similar: it defines the general voice of the website and how that voice can be channeled in the website's visual design, copy, and interactions.

As described by Aarron Walter, the "design persona" should include the following information:

  • Brand Name - The name of your company or service.
  • Overview - A short overview of the brand's personality and what makes it unique.
  • Personality Image - An actual image that embodies the traits you want to include.
  • Brand Traits - Five to seven traits that describe your brand; plus, a few traits that you are trying to avoid.
  • Personality Map
  • Voice - How the brand might speak; and how that voice changes in different contexts.
  • Copy Examples
  • Visual Lexicon - Colors, typography, styles, etc. that convey your brand's personality. A "mood board" would be appropriate.
  • Engagement Methods - Interfaces and interactions that support your brand's personality.

This design persona should contain the business goals of the software; but, it should also allow the personalities of the people behind the software to show through. This will give the brand a truly genuine feel which will allow the end users to feel comfortable connecting with it emotionally.

The design persona is just part of the book. In Designing For Emotion, Aarron Walter goes far beyond the design persona; case studies and topics like overcoming apathy and helping users make decisions with their gut instinct are very interesting. The design persona just happens to be something that I had never heard of before and it struct me as being absolutely brilliant.

We are living in a time where functionality is no longer sufficient. In order for software to differentiate itself - in order for software to satisfy its customers - it has to connect with its customers emotionally. This requires an expanded and holistic view of software design. In order to make sure you're moving in the right direction, I would definitely recommend checking this book out.

Reader Comments


As soon as I began reading, I was reminded of when we asked Siri, "How do I get to 95?" Okay, it was a different interstate, but you get the point. Amazingly, "she" said, "Take this route to get to Interstate 95."

In response to, "Shall I create [your reminder]?" We've said, "Sure," instead of "Yes," or, "No." "Sure" worked.

I want to use Siri to challenge it, er, "her."

But I like the idea of a website with a personality is basically what you're saying now works. Groupon, Woot, and others are among them. You go there not just for products/services, but also for the humor/voice.




I haven't had a chance to play with Siri, but everyone tells me it's amazing! I still can't imagine that it works so well; but people tell me they TXT message me using Siri... crazy!

@Lola, @Lance,

I think you'll like it. It's short - like 160 pages on my iBooks. Took me like 4 or 5 hours to read it. The Book Apart series really has a good balance between content, value, and depth.


Ha ha ha, ColdFusion 24/7 :D

I believe in love. I believe in compassion. I believe in human rights. I believe that we can afford to give more of these gifts to the world around us because it costs us nothing to be decent and kind and understanding. And, I want you to know that when you land on this site, you are accepted for who you are, no matter how you identify, what truths you live, or whatever kind of goofy shit makes you feel alive! Rock on with your bad self!
Ben Nadel