Eight Principles of Emotive Graphic Design To Improve Your Website

Emotive graphic design and copywriting are a wonderful combination that grabs your attention and grabs in your chest, where you feel something. It’s authentic and should be only type of graphic design that you ever attempt. When you reach an error 404 page and there’s a cute picture and anwitty and irreverent one-liner that guides you back to the main site, will you feel repelled and annoyed? No – more likely you will be charmed by it. Emotive graphic design works in this way. It weasels its way into your consciousness and long term memory. Here are a couple of ways to optimise your graphic design to incorporate all of the goodies – the emotional elements that make design memorable.

What is Emotional Design?

Emotional design was a term first coined by Aaron Walter in his book Designing for Emotion. This theory is based upon the famous Maslow hierarchy of needs. The Maslow hierarchy posits that human needs such as health, safety, shelter and food are fundamental to our well being. These basic needs must be satisfied before we can move onwards to more creative and intangible needs such as the need for love, companionship, then once these needs are met we move on to more abstract and self-actualising needs such as morality, creativity and problem-solving.

What Walter did was transpose this formula cleverly onto the design world. He proposed that people need to have a product that is functional and reliable before a layer of pleasure can be added. Therefore, pleasure comes after the utilitarian aspects of design have been fulfilled.

Eight Principles of Emotive Graphic Design To Improve Your Website

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The Important Elements of Emotive Design

One of the great things about making graphic design a pleasant experience for people, is that this means they are more likely to tolerate small inconveniences and glitches on your site. Although please don’t take that as a given. Sometimes no amount of cutesy, sweet or amusing design is going to keep someone from abandoning their shopping cart or unsubscribing. It’s best to err on the side of caution and make your site seamless and user-friendly. So without further ado, here are some of the important emotions of emotive graphic design.


  1. Anticipation: Prior to a launch date, only give enough away to feed the anticipation for a product or service.
  2. Attention: Capture attention in a genuine way with a special, targeted offer.
  3. Surprise: By giving the visitor something new and unexpected, this can charm them.
  4. Idiosyncrasy: Be unique and position your products or services in a new or unusual way.
  5. Attraction: People want to look at a visually compelling and attractive design.
  6. Exclusivity: Create a closed membership or VIP situation that will generate curiosity and more interest from visitors.
  7. Be Human: Use emotive images although not in a crude or childish way. Instead aim for edgy, cool or quirky.
  8. Smile: The human brain is affected by images of people or positive stories. This doesn’t just occur in real life, but online as well.

Eight Principles of Emotive Graphic Design To Improve Your Website

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Some Great Examples of Emotive Design

Instead of copying these examples outright, perhaps aim to gather inspiration from them and generate your own fresh ideas for emotive design.


Threadless T-Shirts

The online leader for trendy t-shirt sales gained world-wide notoriety because of their clever emotive graphic design. They used the power of a friendly smile in their shopping cart. The Threadless shopping cart shows emotions. When it has a t-shirt in there it’s happy, and when it’s empty it has a sad face. Simple. Cute. Subtle yet endearing. You may not end up actually buying anything but the humanised gesture is enjoyable and therefore memorable.

Eight Principles of Emotive Graphic Design To Improve Your Website

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OK Cupid

Imbuing copy with warmth and personality is one way to give the design a real glow. The two things go hand in hand, emotive copy and emotive design. OK Cupid have mastered this subtle art. When you sign up and specify your location, OK Cupid simply says ‘Ahh! Berlin’ or ‘Ahh, Melbourne’. It’s simple and personable gesture of recognition saying at once, ‘How amazing’ and ‘nice to have you on board, welcome’.



The global collective of thrift and indie crafts ETSY has a quirky and individualistic identity that is reflected in the way it deals with unsubscribes for the website. A sappy and slightly ironic song by Paul Young called ‘Every Time You Go Away’ is played when you unsubscribe. This is designed to make a user feel slightly melancholy about the step they are about to take. Even if you decide to unsubscribe, the song still burns into the memory anyway.

Eight Principles of Emotive Graphic Design To Improve Your Website

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Back in the days when Pinterest first began a few years back. It was a closed shop and people could only request an invite. After this there was a painful and interminable wait while the powers that be processed your request to join the hallowed halls of the Pinterest elite. This fuelled curiosity and interest and it made a Pinterest account the hottest ticket in town.


This article was originally created by Athena Dennis for Total Graphic Design. We are purveyors, craftsmen and craftswomen of the finest graphic design pieces this side of the Milky Way. OK maybe that’s overstating it a bit, but we can certainly get imaginative on the right chocolate. Speak with us today!


Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

6 thoughts on “Eight Principles of Emotive Graphic Design To Improve Your Website

    1. HI Dancey thanks for that I appreciate it. No I have never heard of webs of influence but definitely going to check this out. Thank you for the follow 🙂


  1. Great post. Empathy is such an important element in marketing, and this is a great way to connect with a consumer and make them feel comfortable and understood. So interesting how much psychology plays a part in advertising. Thanks for this! Will share!


    1. Thanks so much for your feedback Ashley. I appreciate you taking the time to read and share. Will keep an eye on your blog too. Stay in touch 🙂


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