We humans project ourselves into so much
of what we see. As we gaze at the world,
we discover ourselves looking back. When
we stare at the clouds, or inspect the grain
of a gnarled piece of wood, inevitably we’ll
construct the image of a face in our mind’s
eye. We are accidental narcissists seeking
that which we know best—ourselves.
Emotionally Intelligent Design assumes that
everything we interact with is
“preprogrammed” with information that we
can read and feel with our senses.
We live every day navigating through
turbulent waters of information, interactions
and decisions. How things are designed has a
huge impact on the outcomes of these
“Emotional Intelligence”. It’s not a new concept and
was introduced to me in Daniel Goldman’s book
“Emotional Intelligence: Why it can matter more than
It states that the deﬁnition of EI is simply “The ability
to use your emotions in a positive and constructive
way in relationships with others.”
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and
express your emotions to meet the requirements of
day-to-day living, learning, and relating to others.
EI is used in every day life. It provides “steering” to get
us through many challenging situations.We propel
ourselves using guiding emotions like fear, love and
Many call this innate ability being able to “read people”.
Those of us with a high level of Emotional Intelligence
tend to be very good at building relationships and have
a prominent place in their social circle or community.
Those without Emotional Intelligence may be prone to
live their lives with anxiety, disconnection or exhibit
Emotional Intelligence is seen in things we design.We
can provide the same steering mechanisms through
effective design. Positive emotions; helpfulness, empathy,
education, friendly, guidance.
Products and brands can act as avatars to help guide us
through decision making processes.
Even a well designed graphic can provide navigation
propel a user through a complex website structure.
Emotional Intelligence can be seen in every day things
like signs, products, people.
For many things the design is inherent or natural and
for others it is something that can be created or
You could separate them into intrinsic or extrinsic
Emotionally Intelligent Products often display EI through
personiﬁcation or even more subtle traits to affect our
perceptions. Smart product designers know that our
inhibitions can be dissolved quickly when we see
something familiar or humanlike in design.
we know that the Android robot is intelligent, amiable
we know that the Apple ﬁnder is organized, connected
Look at virtually any child’s toy and see the glowing
personalities of familiar beings.
Emotionally Intelligent People have an innate gift for
communication and understanding — even their
appearance and demeanour affect our perceptions
Through watching their behaviour we are often forced
to react uncontrollably, giving in to our emotions.
Listen to the wisdom of the Dali Llama
Feel the persuasion of marketer Guy Kawasaki
Or get mushy to the gurgling and giggling of Babies
We see a great variety of Emotional Intelligence in
animals and nature.
Everything from dangerous predators, lush untamed
rain forests, and destructive Tornadoes.We’ve been
programmed over thousands of years to understand
the hidden meanings behind these things.
The very survival of our species has been dependent on
learning which natural phenomenon to avoid and which
to seek out.
Daniel Pink often blogs about Emotionally Intelligent
Signage is speciﬁcally designed to emote messages
meant to compel us to think.The more embedded
‘subliminal’ the messages, the easier it is for our brains
Example: In case of ﬁre, exit building before tweeting
What can we learn from Emotionally Intelligent Design
and how can we use it?
By understanding the solidiﬁed human perceptions we
can create experiences that communicate more clearly
and compel audiences to react.
By utilizing Emotional Intelligence designers can
motivate, educate and inspire.
Real world examples of Emotionally Intelligent Design
being used out there in the wild.
I’ll cite examples ranging from brands to user interfaces
to products. Hopefully you’ll be able to spot many more
instances of this type of emotional design after my
Clearleft designed a usability testing app named
Silverback.The ape is a character personiﬁcation of the
product; stable, strong and somewhat human through
It’s clear that the designers of this app wanted us to
identify with the brands persona and had a ﬁrm
understanding of their desired target customers while
developing the brand’s spokesperson, or spokes ape.
Coda is a website design and development app made by
Panic.They added visual metaphors to give the user
instant cognitive directions on how to perform basic tasks
like opening website projects.
Coda also understood that writing code requires a
great deal of focus so they design of the app would
need to be task focussed and distraction free.
Objects like this wine opener designed by Metrokane. It
perfectly balances form and function—its elegant design
makes it easy to use.
Industrial design is a craft where practitioners
understand that how a product looks and feels is just as
important as how it works.
Take a look at virtually any modern mobile device and
you can see they paid special attention to the details
that make people feel good while they use the phone.
I’ve put together some steps that could be used to
bring more Emotional Intelligence into designs.
The ﬁrst is understanding.
Much like a professional actor taking on a part you will
need to form a proﬁle of your audience. Study the
traits, needs and desires, strengths and weaknesses so
that you can form insights into their behaviours.
Next you would create a delivery mechanism for your
Knowing your user or audience, what will stimulate
them emotionally and provoke them to engage?
Embedding a lifelike personality or human characteristic
will pry open the doors on your viewer’s defenses.
You might choose fearful imagery if it were for a home
ﬁre emergency instruction or cute and friendly
character if it were a product made to clean up toddler
Next you would deﬁne basic interaction patterns and
Knowing your audience you can make educated guesses
on how they might react when surprised, rewarded or
The more emotional or personal you get, the stronger
Finally, you’ll need to capture as much data as possible
in order to ﬁne tune presentation.
Collect audience feedback through studying their
behaviour. Did they react as you expected? Why and
Analyzing this chain of input and output will get you
closer to your mark with huge beneﬁts.
Drive by Daniel Pink
Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter
More Than IQ by Daniel Coleman
Designing for Emotion by AaronWalters
Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World by
Images from Stock.XCHNGE