Designing for Emotion

One thing about emails that inspires me in my daily work is the fact that not everything is as easy as it looks. There is a lot of difference between a regular email and an email you remember because it was really good. From a developer standpoint things don’t have to be crazy advanced in order to achieve remarkable emails. Often it’s the little things that count and how well they play together with your overall content strategy.

The Email Design Conference 2014
The Email Design Conference 2014

In my years of developing emails, I’ve come across a few talks about how to make emails more than just a regular email. I was really inspired by the Designing for Emotion in Email presentation at the Email Design Conference  in 2014 by Kevin Mandeville and Jason Rodriguez. After watching the conference, I immediately bought the book by Aarron Walter from MailChimp about Designing for Emotion which quickly changed the way I was thinking during the design process. It also changed how I perceive emails today which impacts the guidance I give our clients when building new emails. This is what I took away from the conference and the book.

In this day and age, we celebrate the unique and special. We want our experiences, offline as online, to be personal. We make time to engage with businesses that focus on us as an individual in almost every instance where it’s executed correctly because it creates positive emotional attachments. We inherently feel that the company knows us. These emotional attachments have a huge impact on your business – and when it comes to email it’s increasingly important because we judge an email before it even gets opened. As an email marketer you can affect people by doing two things: You can add to the trust or you can subtract from the trust. You will most likely do both over time, so it’s important to be on point when building trust. Email is amazing like that – because it is a golden opportunity for you to talk directly to your consumers. Your message lands directly in the inbox.


The first thing a recipient sees is the from-name, which is huge because the recipients already have an association with the sender before the email is even opened. It should be the goal of every email you send to improve upon that association.

  • Be a person. Don’t portray yourself as the recipient’s best friend in a sleazy sales kind of manner but let the recipients understand that the email is sent from a real person.
  • Be emotional. Have fun with the email. Reach out to the person instead of pushing sales.
  • Build trust. Realize that the relationship is very fragile and be cautious with pushing content. Try to emphasize that you only want what the recipient wants.

Email Hierarchy of Needs

There are certain needs that have to be met in the design of an email. You are most likely familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We can use the same template for emails though the keywords have changed a bit.

First and foremost, the email needs to have a functional design. A functional design is perceived to have little to no value. It’s just essential for the email. Next, it has to have a usable design. It has to be forgiving and easy to use. A useable design is perceived to have moderate value. Last but not least, we need our email to be pleasurable. That means; The design is pleasurable, delightful and fun. A pleasurable design is perceived to be of the highest level. This is where we truly enjoy the email and where we create positive emotional attachments.

How To Make Your Emails Pleasurable...