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Evoking Emotions: Main Principles of Emotional Web Design

The latest IT trends indicate the completion of an artificial environment that has spatial and temporal advantages over existing information systems. Its virtual nature and the scale of the spread of technology disrupt the usual holistic existence of man. In this case, in addition to the technical side, computer virtual reality has a cultural aspect associated with the formation of a new cultural space with new forms of interaction and manifestation of the creative substance of people.


Brave New World

Virtual reality, with its blurred spatial and temporal boundaries, is turning into the main environment of modern (especially young) people. Today any form of culture contains a virtual image that contributes to immersion in its environment. Virtual culture’ is based on means of influence that contribute to a deeper involvement of a person into his or her space, which leads to the displacement of reality by virtuality and the loss of the sense of objectivity of the world. In order to humanize this artificial space, a link was needed to ensure its interaction with the mass user, and web design became that link.

Audio-visual flow, created by the elements of web design, contributes to the formation of certain images in the human consciousness, but the dynamic pace of modern life, the information saturation of web space, and consumer policy in relation to the user create superficial sensations, depriving people of the deep assimilation of information. Under such conditions, the problem of forming an adequate emotional response to web constructs moves from the ethical to the practical plain, and for those engaged in web design, it is vital to focus on the end purpose – whether it is to stimulate a purchase in an online grocery store, evoke a strong response to a piece of news, or, say, give an incentive to play slots for real money online.

As billions of people are drawn into a dynamic, web-based environment, web design takes on new characteristics. It contributes to the creation of an effective information platform that meets the objectives of a web resource and also leads to the identification and development of the commercial, communicative, and sociocultural potential of this virtual environment. As a result, web design acts as an instrument of cultural transformation as well.

Modern cultural web space contains not only meaningful information, but also an active information shell consisting of web design elements. Web design, influencing the communication process with the web user, builds a new model of interaction based on the manipulation of user sensations. At the same time, it is becoming an increasingly subtle tool for regulating emotions as the cultural milieu changes toward virtualization.

Where It Came From

Human existence has always contained, and still contains, a virtual component, which can become the basis for illusory states. Computer technology has synthesized virtual space, technical in nature, which in turn has formed a new way of life in the information society. Today, the imagery created by web technologies provides an attractive opportunity to replace the natural human environment with a virtual environment adapted with illusory components.

Web design is an element of humanization of technical virtual space. Several stages can be distinguished in its formation:

– In the late 1950s, the results of military technologies become available for public use; the inhabiting of the artificial information environment takes place at the level of inquisitive research into the possibilities of the new space;

– Since the early 1990s, the development of hypertext and markup language technologies and the emergence of browsers have made it possible to create the first products for mass use, presented in a familiar readable form;

– At the turn of the centuries, web-design emerged as an independent technology with its own methods of impact and forms of presenting information;

– Today, web design has acquired the additional status of an emotional guide to the user in the web environment due to the commercialization of artificial web space.

How It Works Psychologically

Web design uses easily interpreted symbols. To create an emotional shell of an information web resource, it mimics the sensory experience of perceived images. There is a superficial immersion in re-experiencing the events of material existence. In this case, the user has sensations that are illusory in nature. With the help of web design, they take on the appearance of a full-fledged sensual perception of virtual space.

Web space uses gamification techniques to establish and maintain a connection with the consumer. Originally they were used to teach the user how to work with new technologies. Nowadays, the game is an element of the system of emotional retention of the user’s attention. It has been transformed into gamification, which is illusory in nature. Full effective information communication in this space is possible only through respect for the audience, which means that a professional, clear, accessible, free of “noise” and manipulative technologies, meeting the requirements of modern aesthetics web design is needed. Only then will it be able to preserve the virtual status of web space in the mutually transient states of virtual-illusory.

Mass communication, household items, clothing, leisure, and the information industry bind the consumer through pleasure, shaping sustained intellectual and emotional responses. The user’s senses pick up the information shell of the site, created by the elements of web design. The virtual superficiality of experienced sensations is mainly formed through the visual and auditory sense channels. Sensations, transmitted in the physical world through other sense organs, are formed in this space on the basis of audio-visual rows and are associated with the ability of man to think figuratively and compare with previously experienced sensations in reality.

Playing with the user’s sensations, the web designer projects the desired perception of the space. The user just needs to count the symbols, and the process of image formation will occur automatically, which deprives the person of the experience of independent deciphering of information codes. This process of optimizing consumer relations leads to a simplification of the communication process.

As web technologies develop, a new quality of the web environment – interactivity for a dynamic dialogue with the user – has taken shape. Interactivity creates a sense of manipulation of the information environment, active interaction with the artificial virtual space to the state of immersion in it.

Modern trends in web design are associated with the embodiment of real events and objects of the physical world in a virtual artificial space. It can be a stylizing of the website for a historical era and a particular locality, imitation of domestic processes, virtual reflection of interiors and exteriors of reality, or realistic graphical construction of the latest futuristic views. All these methods of visual imitation are aimed at virtual immersion in web space.

Web design, as part of the modern information and communication system, seeks to create an intuitive information space. To do this, it uses design elements based on the general characteristics of the perception of the mass target audience of the site and virtually reflects the objects of the prevailing mass culture.

Today’s web pages are also seen as advertising platforms with enormous commercial potential. Creators of advertising actively exploit web developments for the sake of informational influence. If the web page is not an independent advertising or commercial product, its virtual space can hold hyperlinks, banners, and other forms of web advertising. And it is more difficult for a web product to maintain a harmonious environment with the necessary readability when introducing the elements of extraneous advertising that attract the user’s eye and create multiple centers of attention.

How It Works in Practice

Life teaches us to analyze our emotional reactions. How do you react when you are surprised, when something is anticipated, or when something is withheld from you? How do you feel when your status is elevated or you are told to do something, despite your reluctance? Situations like that are memorable, and if you look at them more closely, there are a lot of good lessons to be learned.


Designers use this very useful property of the psyche to distribute attention and shape user behavior and experience. We know that users of websites and apps process information quickly and their attention span is limited. The element of surprise built into the interface breaks the behavioral pattern and makes the brain re-read the situation.

Surprise is always followed by a proportional emotional response. The brain, sensing the contrast, has to react quickly. There is no time for in-depth analysis, and the brain has to rely on emotion and intuition. Interface designers love to get this kind of reaction because when they do it the right way, they don’t utilize their ability to doubt the need for a purchase and abandon it. However, you must remember that the goal is not to trick or deceive the visitor – the audience will certainly understand the game and not trust your brand. The goal is a positive perception of the brand, and then loyalty.


Surprise compresses user emotions to a momentary spike, making their reaction more intense, and anticipation (the antithesis of surprise) can create a special emotional connection. Anticipation occurs when we announce an upcoming event and give the audience time to think about it. Parents awaken children’s imagination on Christmas Eve by telling them that Santa is coming to their home soon, and children anticipate holiday magic and presents.

Video game designers call anticipation an open system. Open system games allow users to play by their own rules. Open systems encourage people to engage their imagination. Closed system games severely narrow the playing space, forcing the user to move toward a specific goal in a given direction. Comparing open and closed systems is like figuring out how a book is different from a movie. Books require our imagination, while movies have already been made up for us.

Anticipation, like the open system, forces us to imagine the events to come. If you get people to anticipate, the result will be much more effective than if you lay out all the details at once. Uncertainty provokes the mind. Anticipation promises us something special, and we wish hard for the mystery to be revealed so we can compare the outcome with our expectations.


All of the examples discussed suggest that positive impressions make users literally fall in love with a product or service. The methods may be different, but the result is always the same: the audience develops an emotional attitude toward the product. It involves a simple psychological principle called the precedence effect.

The precedence effect is a phenomenon in which a person’s reaction to a stimulus is determined by the preceding action of the same or a similar stimulus. The precedence effect allows certain initial stimuli to activate elements of memory, and when the next stimulus comes, the brain is more inclined to form associative sequences when the next stimulus arrives.


There are strategies you can use when developing an emotional design. Surprise, delight, anticipation, raising status, limiting access in order to create a sense of exclusivity – all of these techniques will help your brand win the love of the audience. However, for each specific brand and audience, you need to tailor your tactics accordingly. There is no universal formula for emotional design – you only have general psychology and knowledge of human nature at your disposal.

Sometimes you will make mistakes, but that’s okay: the course can always be adjusted. Start with simple interaction schemes, use a couple of the ideas mentioned, and see how your audience reacts. If you hit the sweet spot, the results won’t take too long.