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.
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.