Rob reviews 'Designing for Emotion' by Aarron Walter

By Toward,

February 2012


Here at Toward we always try to stay up to date with the latest technology, design trends and design philosophies. We try to read lots. We’re big fans of the A Book Apart series, and not just because they line up in a beautifully colour coordinated set, but because they’re really fascinating and easy to read. Last week we received the latest editions to the series – The web team have had their noses dug into ‘Mobile First’ by Luke Wroblewski whilst Rob bagsied ‘Designing for Emotion’ by Aarron Walter. He’s now finished it and here’s his review:

Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter

I had high hopes for Designing for Emotion before I had even opened it. The subject matter was one that interests me greatly and any book that discusses the psychology behind design is a must read for me.

Not only did the book live up to my expectations but it exceeded them. Author Aarron Walter has crafted a well researched and enjoyable read that is the perfect length to digest in a few hours but also a handy reference that I will come back to time and time again.

One of the first things that hit home for me was the importance of longevity in our designs and somehow creating an experience that people talk about long after they have moved onto the next website.

This industry changes quickly and it can often be a struggle to keep up, so whilst we are focused on making sites responsive or adopting a content first approach, it won’t be long before something else will be the focus. What Designing for Emotion makes clear in the foreword is that by ensuring there is an emotional connection between users and the websites we create, we are creating work and experiences that last and that keep people talking about them.

The book continues to discuss a wide range of topics but always links them back to main subject. Craftsmanship is one such topic and here Walters discusses how those who craft something, anything, leave a bit of themselves in their work. It's about adding the personal touch and being passionate about what you do.

He goes on to say how we are more connected today through the web, social media and technology but not necessarily more connected in an emotional way. I completely agree with this sentiment. If anything social media is making us more anti-social, with superficial friendships and weak emotional connections between one another. With the importance of offline relationships clear, Walters believes we can bring some of that emotional resonance online and his book tells us how.

At Toward we focus on personality and the best way to communicate this through the designs we craft for our clients. It was great to read that Walters also sees this as being an important part of design, to show the humans behind the website. He also encourages us to keep things simple. Sure the sites we create have to be usable but that usability doesn't have to come at the expense of pleasure (or emotion).

The book states that to make experiences pleasurable we have to look at storytelling, the attention to detail and (dare I insert a blow-my-own-trumpet plug here to my own book) the value in designing the invisible. I couldn't resist -sorry.

As for the psychology behind design, Walters talks about the relationship between emotion and memory. He shares some great real-life examples with us throughout the book including when we hear songs, when we smell certain things and when we taste incredible food. Recall is improved when we have an emotional connection to something. There's no need for this not to be true with websites.

Another theme in the book that is close to my heart is audiences. Walters states that 'when it comes to emotional design, we need to tailor the personality to the content and audience'. He also says that 'by understanding our audience we can better address their needs'. Again I completely agree and would also add from my experience of working as part of an audience research team for the BBC that there is a big difference between knowing your audience and understanding your audience. It is this understanding that brings with it more insight into those you are targeting, an insight that will allow you to create designs that they can relate to emotionally.

Having a keen interest in all the topics neatly sewn together in this book means that it was unlikely I wouldn't like it, but that's not to say that my enjoyment was guaranteed. Walters has written a book that all those in the industry should read, it won't take long but the knowledge he shares and the inspiration it yields is invaluable. It's certainly got me thinking and I'm going to make sure all those at Toward read it too.

Have you read Designing for Emotion? If so, why not tell us what you thought of it in the comments.