Designing for Emotion

Designing for Emotion by Aaron Walter is a delight to read.

As you would expect from an author encouraging designers to create products that deliver a pleasurable (and memorable) experience.

Aaron introduces the reader to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s idea was that we (as humans) have a sequence of needs. Each need in the sequence must be fulfilled in that order to progress on to the next. They are:

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Love/belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-actualisation

Usually the needs are represented as a pyramid, with physiological at the base and self-actualisation at the tip. To reach a stage where we are ready to embrace creativity, problem solving and morality (all examples of self-actualisation), all other needs must first be met.

Aaron goes on to map the needs of a user to this model. The user experience of a product must similarly fulfil a sequential series of needs – these are:

  1. Functional
  2. Reliable
  3. Usable
  4. Pleasurable

This sets the scene for the book. Encouragement to move beyond usable. Recognition that to truly delight and create lasting memories, a product must be built on a solid foundation.

An unreliable product imbued with personality is no better than a fair-weather friend – around for the tequila, but AWOL for the hangover.

While the book focuses on web, the central ideas are certainly applicable to products, services and beyond. The book itself being a great example of these ideas in action.


In a book of this nature the content and its presentation must be sequential, to successfully build the idea up in the readers mind. The book itself must be readable – that is the typography and images are legible, the pages are easy to turn and margins wide enough to allow it to be held, and it has a suitable system for navigation.


Aaron cites numerous established examples from the out in the wild (wild web) to back up his ideas. Accompanying screenshots, quotes and URLs help authenticate these. The content of the book is presented consistently, allowing the reader to anticipate the continuing reading experience.


The examples demonstrate a variety of approaches to imbuing design with personality that the reader can draw on for inspiration in their own work – it is not all about having a primate mascot like MailChimp, if your industry is traditionally more straight-laced, then Mint is proof that you can still get in on the action too. And then there are a few fully-formed takeaways, such as the outline for a product persona.


So we get to pleasurable. As I said at the outset, Designing for Emotion was a delight to read. The tone gives the book personality – it is friendly but not informal, authoritative but not pretentious. Aaron comes across as someone who is informed (maybe that one should go into reliable…?), enthusiastic and committed to these ideas.

To summarise: inspiring and well worth a read. I’ve felt compelled enough to write about the Designing for Emotion, and will no doubt return to it again. Job done.