A successful experience, whether online or off, requires both intellectual and emotional attributes. The intellectual attributes provide for the tasks necessary for information gathering, learning and comprehension. The emotional attributes spark our curiosity, keep us engaged, and build trust.

In the past 10 years or so, we have seen a definite push towards emphasizing the emotional side of an experience, and with good reason. Emotional attributes are largely responsible for audience awareness, engagement and loyalty and are seen by many (including myself) as the cornerstone of emotional and social branding.

Professional research supports this conclusion, and shows that when an experience is designed well, with attention given to the emotional attributes of that experience, human interaction is more relaxed and people are more patient. The experience as a whole is more likely to be explored and engaged -- often in spite of functional or intellectual constraints that might exist (Don Norman, Emotional Design).

The consumer marketplace also supports this conclusion, and showcases a number of examples from companies that focus heavily on the emotional attributes of their brand to great success. Apple, Nike, GE (as examples) all provide the necessary intellectual attributes but tend to focus on a rich set of emotional attributes in their messaging -- and they are three of the most trusted and valued brands in the world.

Even industries where a product or service is seen as a commodity can benefit from this kind of differentiation. The same strategy could be used to increase customer awareness and interest in public activities, increase customer satisfaction, and increase overall customer participation in programs -- all of which can have a direct impact on the bottom line.

Intellectual and Emotional Attributes

A sampling of intellectual and emotional attributes that are used to create different kinds of experiences.


  • Informative
  • Instructional
  • Referential
  • Educational
  • Objective
  • Linear
  • Factual


  • Authentic
  • Sharable
  • Approachable
  • Inspirational
  • Subjective
  • Asynchronous
  • Dramatic

Crafting an Emotional Experience

There are a number of ways to create an experience that utilizes the emotional attributes mentioned above.

  1. Be Authentic
    A campaign/brand needs to offer something concrete and needs to be authentic. Shallow marketing campaigns can been seen a mile away, and can detract from an overall experience. People are looking for experiences that have substance, and are willing to devote time to a particular message if it is engaging. 

  2. Teach, Don’t Force
    Provide learning opportunities, but let people take advantage of them on their own terms. Don’t tell them what to do, motivate them to find information on their own and provide tools to let them figure it out for themselves. Give them the control.

  3. Communicate with Examples
    Provide visual models for communication wherever possible, and use contextual comparisons to ease comprehension. Cognitive research shows that most people find it easier to comprehend information when you can visually show a concept rather than narratively describing it with text.

  4. Provide Incentives
    Provide both financial and personal incentives to enhance an experience. Financial incentives should be approachable (easy to use, easy to trade in) and provide alternatives where large purchases are required. Personal incentives should be centered around the individual and their friends and families (setting goals, tracking progress, challenging others, etc.)

  5. Use Spontaneous Humor/Logic
    Keep the message short, sweet and to the point. Don’t overwhelm with too much content, and direct attention using visuals. Use humor and clever logic to provide an unexpected encounter, when appropriate.

The future of design and branding requires consideration of the social and emotional attributes inherent in human interaction, and developing strategies around these elements can provide for engaging experiences, increase customer satisfaction, and establish loyalty and trust.

Image: Three Foolish Virgins by Chris 73, under the creative commons cc-by-sa 3.0 license.

AuthorJoshua David
CategoriesDesign Strategy