Emotional design: what marketers can learn from a weather app

It’s time we treated form and function with even-handed consideration, writes Jacqui Jewell. To illustrate, she dissects the visceral, behavioural and reflective elements of the weather app on iOS.


Marketing is fast catching on to the idea that consumers buy an ‘experience’ rather than a product or service.  It is all about the ‘relationship’ with the brand and/or product, and with all relationships comes human emotion.

When it comes to experiences with products and services (whether it be a blender, a new TV interface or an online budgeting app) marketers should know that certain elements can be tweaked to ascertain good responses to what is being sold.

Functionality and aesthetics are two elements of the user interface that have often been in conflict. A stunning design serving no other purpose but as an expression of beauty is not going to help you find the enter button on a banking app. A dull, stock-standard but functional interface is not going to inspire the user to return.

It is time we treated form and function with the even-handed consideration reserved for newborn twins; wrapped up in a blanket of ‘we love them both equally’.

Good experiential design means that beauty and functionality are in balance and that we acknowledge the concept of ’emotional design’, a term coined by Donald Norman, a professor of cognitive science and usability consultant for the Nielsen Norman Group.

After banging on about the primacy of functionality over other considerations in his book The Design of Everyday Things (his critics had a field day), Norman decided to backtrack and explore people’s relationship to design. The result was the book Emotional Design.

Through his research, Norman found that design affects how people experience products, which happens at three different levels, and translates into three types of design:

1. Visceral design: a subconscious and even biologically pre-wired response to a visual (think of your automatic responses to seeing a cockroach or an attractive person).

Lady and cockroach 600w


2. Behavioural design: how the product/application functions, the look and feel, the usability, our total experience with using the product/application. Users form their perception of a product through use. Thus design needs to ensure the product is easy to use, addresses the end users goal/purpose, is enjoyable and free from causing frustration.

3. Reflective design: how it makes us feel after the initial impact and interacting with the product/application, where we associate products with our broader life experience and associate meaning and value to them. Consumers maintain an innate sense of identity through the consumption of the product over time. (Most of us know the bond we have with our iPhone and how losing it elicit panic).


Emotional design delves into the human aspect of the user experience and takes us on a journey that not only collects the cognitive, scientifically measurable elements of product design but also collects the emotional, affecting parts of the experience.

In the world of marketing, brands need to understand that various design elements in a campaign or other customer touch points contribute to the emotional response of the audience. By recognising the role of design in the selling process and actively integrating ‘emotional design’, marketers can boost the impact of their campaigns and deepen their relationships with their customers.

As an example of the three steps of ‘emotional design’, let’s analyse the Weather app for iOS. (I could use the entire Apple brand to effectively portray ‘emotional design’ at work but, hey, no one needs to tackle that mountain. Let’s keep it simple).



On a visceral level we are met with a clean, uncluttered interface, and a pleasant pictorial indication of the weather (blue’s always a good indicator when it comes to weather, yeah?). This is supported by a clear and bold delivery of what we have opened the app for – quick information. A clean and uncluttered interface unconsciously communicates simplicity, ease and luxury. The first part of our journey has begun and so far so good.

Apple Weather app sun and clouds


The behavioural part of the design is our total experience with the app.

  1. We effortlessly view the visual indicators of the weather (the subtle animations),
  2. we connect to the aesthetic of a sunburst and recollect emotionally what that means to our own experience of such,
  3. we relate to the visual story of storm clouds gathering and are persuaded to look into this further to see if rain is forecast – a simple finger-swipe to the left tells all,
  4. we can then move down to the five-day forecast, laid out neatly in the same screen – universal weather icons tell all, and
  5. swiping left or right here brings up other (personally chosen) cities for weather consideration, all with a descriptive visual, leaving us with a nice feeling of connectedness. The world becomes a smaller place.


No frustration has been experienced in our interaction (aside from maybe cracking the sads about a pending rain-storm on a weekend) and we are left with a satisfactory user experience. The brain takes note.

Apple weather app screens



Reflectively we now associate this app with simplicity, clarity and ease of use. It becomes our ‘go-to’ app for whenever we are planning our living activities.

In the bigger picture of our lives we welcome anything that aids us and creates a feeling of effortlessness, such as this weather app. Alternatively, if we were navigating an interface that was unintuitive and messy, difficult to navigate and visually harsh, we would walk away with a feeling of (often subconsciously) unease, frustration and incompletion. We would not be quick to return.


As Donald Norman’s discovery stated:

“The surprise is that we now have evidence that pleasing things work better, are easier to learn, and produce a more harmonious result.”


Not so surprising any more. Emotional design is fast becoming important to marketers as they holistically approach the creation of great user experiences. Each system (form and function) impacts the other and works together. Knowing that emotion is so vital to how we think makes it more important than ever to seek and create a meaningful connection with the consumer and to ensure the best user experience possible.


Jacqui Jewell is senior designer at We Are Social.



  • Experiential Marketing: A New Framework for Design and Communications, Bernd Schmitt Ph.D
  • http://www.jnd.org/
  • http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2012/04/12/building-emotion-into-your-websites/
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_Design