Emotional Design: How Recognizing Humanity of Readers Can Help Journalists Online

One of my favorite blogs to follow is a design blog that I’ve mentioned before, Smashing Magazine. It’s great because it’s functional (I can get around it), reliable (I know what I’m getting when I go there) and useful (I learn stuff). It’s also pretty. Moreover, I want to note that it’s pleasurable, too.

“Pleasurable” may sound like an odd descriptor for a website, but don’t judge me yet– take a look at it. And then take a look at its article about this very subject, “the personality layer.”

Emotion is one of the handiest online tools. Simon Schmid outlines why beautifully.

As such, if you click that link, you’ve got a double-whammy of a page to learn from: Smashing Magazine is home to good content like this piece on emotional design, and it’s an example of some emotional design itself. You may not notice the subtle emotional cues as you browse, but that’s also the point—even the smallest play to emotion helps keep readers engaged.

Readers are people. Readers are individuals. Readers are persons. Think about what you would want, and do want. Do you ever turn down something fun, inviting or positive?

The positivity in Smashing Magazine’s content is likewise in its details – including the text that guides a reader through the site – and I think that’s why people advocate strongly for its product. Sure, there could be more (like Tumblr, home of the best email notifications ever), but at the very least, the aesthetic appeal of Smashing Magazine makes one person – me – think warm thoughts, and that meshes well with the kind, light tone throughout. It puts me in a good mood. The community around the site makes me think I’m not alone.

What I’m saying is that many things, large but also small, contribute to our human feelings towards a site, its content, and our experience—and Smashing Magazine is an example of one total package. Its content is king, it looks nice, and it has the other bonus elements that assist in creating a positive response.

You want the most positive response to your site possible—that helps build brand loyalty, boost possible engagement, and then probably results in things like revenue, too.

Look at the color scheme and fonts, things we recognize as probably important, but also look at the microcopy and look at that cat. What other reason is there for putting a cute cat on a page beyond designing for a response you readily or subconsciously recognize about how people work? And where, in some cases, is the harm?

At the heart of the emotional design concept: if you observe a widespread human characteristic, perhaps you should design for it.

For our purposes on technology and journalism, the larger point is this: Taking a lens of emotional design to “the small stuff” is good for organizations to explore with their websites (and it’d be cool to see more new orgs do so), and because journalists interact online on the same platforms (and you know, have their own websites), emotional design is also a powerful consideration for any individual journalist’s online endeavors.

How can you make your individual online presence more pleasurable? Here are a few quick, half-formed thoughts on the many, many possibilities.



Non-emotional thought: “I don’t care if you use them in your texts with a spouse. But otherwise, emoticons are bad and unprofessional and you’re going to lose credibility if you use them.”

How emotional design may fit in: Emoticons are a way to quickly convey the tone of your message, just as a smile is in an in-person conversation. You can say things well in words, of course, but having a quasi-human face smiling can clarify a point to someone in a tweet, too. In engaging with readers, why shy away from a tool we so often use with friends? Or if you personally don’t use them, why shy away from a tool that so many people recognizably do? For our habits, sometimes we may have no other good option.