Unusual Emotions to Coax out of Users

Other 2 responses so far

Last week we talked about the commonly targeted positive emotions, and I promised to talk about unusual emotions that can be targeted. These negative or more difficult to influence emotions are a challenge to access and aren’t often a good fit for most sites. When they do work, and are correctly identified by the designer, they make a lasting impression.

I repeat, use these sparingly and really ask yourself (and the client) “Is a negative emotion the most effective way to sell this site?”

Curiosity, an Emotion for the Patient

Curious Cats

A pair of curious cats. Image Source

Typically you want to hit your visitors with the best selling features above the fold, on the front page. That and cramming as much you can into that most visited area is what you’re pressured to do from clients and other designers alike.

  • Aside: I really hate it when information is crammed into the first page. Yes, the important bits should be there, your unique sales pitch; but details and secondary pitches should be below the fold on the front page or on a second tab.

There is a case to be made for stringing a user along to explore the site. A well engaged reader loves to be well informed. They’ll happily read and click along becoming better customers and feeling like they want to do more.

The drawback to curiosity is you will lose readers without the time to fully investigate your string of information. They may run to simpler or more forward sites. Be very sure about the rate at which you trickle your information and keep foreshadowing what will be coming if they continue.

When you have enough depth and a subject that most readers want to investigate, curiosity is a great albeit unusual emotion to target with your readers.

Disgust and Anger

“WAIT. Disgust? On my website‽”

I heard you use that interrobang through my ESP. I’m not suggesting you show images of severed fingers on your surgeon’s website, or garbage on your waste management site.

One group of people who know how to use disgust on their site right is, you guessed it, PETA. Off their site they’re known for gory imagery which no one would want to see but on their site they keep it to their slogan. They get the blood boiling with their statement, right above the image of a cute dog. “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any way.” A bold statement, that boils the blood when you think about it.


Very few people can pull a very negative emotion like sadness and turn that into a positive experience where you’d like to return to the site. Even fewer topics support it. Once in a blue moon, the stars align and a capable designer with a subject matter that supports the emotion are paired together and harmonize well.

This is an emotion that is dynamite, not to be used except by professionals under adult supervision. Handle with care is an understatement.

It’s the Experience You’re After

Any emotion can be used, especially when it’s handled right. Guiding the user through a roller coaster of emotions is compelling, but be sure to finish on a high note so they leave with a “one more time” attitude. You remember saying that to your parents as a kid? So does the rest of the world. Bring it out, and you’ll have a good design.

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  • Great tips, Adrian. In this age of short attention span, and crappy information overflow, it's important to capture the users attention with the overall look of a content page — differentiate the content from the rest of the site, and vice versa.

  • Most definitely. Hit them with the most engaging item you have in the most interesting way you can, then design the rest of your site to support that.

    Occasionally it is good to keep content mixed with the main pages, for example if you're working with a content providing service.