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Evoking emotion on social media through design

Evoking Emotion on Social Media Through Design illustration by Anat Warshavsky

How can a human-centered approach bring more attention to your social posts? Here’s how and why we should be designing for emotion on social media.

Social media is about so much more than just boasting with holiday pics, stalking your ex and chatting to long-lost friends. Slowly dominating our virtual worlds, these platforms now function as marketing tools as legitimate as any other. And when done right, they enable brands, professionals, freelancers and more to seek recognition and get their voice heard. The type of content you share when doing social media marketing depends on the brand you’re designing for, as well as the specific platform you’re posting on. If you’re looking to boost your ‘gram following, these Instagram tips for designers will set you on the right path.

Whether creating social media graphics for Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or any other channel, evoking emotion in your followers is essential. It grabs their attention and provokes a quick gut response. This can be achieved in the words you use on the caption and post, but we all know that without the right graphic design, no one will take a second look. Here are tips on how to create powerful content on social media, which emotions to convey through your posts and how:

Why you should be designing for emotion

Your ultimate goal as a designer in this field is to generate an immediate reaction. People are bombarded with information from all directions and spend a lot of their time scrolling through feeds absentmindedly. That’s why your social media content needs to stand out from the crowd. As humans, we respond to things that make us feel a certain way. Especially if they do so quickly. Just like in UI and UX design, social media also requires designers to adopt a more human-centered approach. Emotions are an essential part of your customers’ or followers’ experience, as they are a big part of what makes up our personalities and they help us make choices every day. This kind of design requires you to really put yourself in your followers’ shoes. Think about how they will react to certain visuals, in terms of color, typography, illustration style and more.

Seven main emotions to address on social media

Time to break it down. Humans are, of course, very complex creatures with a wide range of intricate emotions. Creatives know, more than anyone, what it feels like to move from elation to frustration within minutes when working on a particularly challenging project. Nevertheless, there are seven main emotion categories that you should aim to evoke in your social posts (not necessarily all at once!).

1. Familiarity

With the info overload we experience on a daily basis, seeing something that touches a familiar chord immediately grabs our attention. Used on social media, familiarity can also strengthen our connection with the image and ultimately with the brand itself. While the text involved also has a key role in fostering a sense of familiarity, the design can make or break the post’s success. As well as connecting to your audience by featuring objects and scenes we all know too well (such as smartphones, coffee, waiting in line for food when you’re really hungry), human figures and photos of people are also immediately relatable.

If you’re going for an illustration, you can adapt your style and content to enhance its relatability. The subject of the image below already speaks to a wide audience, but imagine what it would look like if the illustrations were stick figures, or – horror of horrors – if there was no imagery at all. The characters are drawn in a simple, but figurative way and their facial expressions and gestures make them very human and relatable – we “get” them. By adding typical office scenery behind each person, you also immediately understand the context.

5 types of people you find at work Facebook post

2. Desire

…A.k.a., “I need this NOW”. Making something look desirable is a big part of social media marketing, especially when it comes to Instagram or Pinterest, that have more of an emphasis on the visual aspect. Nothing could be more tempting than a good bird’s-eye view shot of a luscious chocolate cake or a selection of succulents on a wooden shelf with a pristine white wall in the background.

When selling a specific product, consider posting photos or mockups of it in different settings. For example, if you’re promoting your prints, share a picture of them up on the wall in a beautiful home, like illustrator Miranda Sofroniou did in her Instagram post below. The same goes for fashion or jewelry. Seeing the product on a specific person or in its natural habitat naturally makes you want it more. Your followers will start imagining how the necklaces you designed will look on them, or how they’ll display your ceramic kitchenware at home.

See more of Miranda Sofroniou’s works on her Wix website!

3. Cuteness

This is all about creating those visuals that make your heart melt in the best possible way. Of course, not every social post can (and should) fall under this category – tax accounting and neuroscience are two that spring to mind. Other than involving images of babies or newborn kittens (a surefire way to reach maximum cuteness), what other techniques can you use?

Firstly, consider your color palette. Pastel shades do the trick when it comes to cuteness, or go for an aesthetic mix of bright happy colors. Generally, stay away from dark hues. Hand drawn elements can work well and give it a more intimate, personal touch. You can even adopt a slightly childlike vibe. Try softening the imagery with rounded corners and generally going for more rounded shapes. But careful not to overdo it – you don’t want it to actually look like a five-year-old child has taken over your feed. The post below contrasts a playful illustration style and jittery animations with a clean grid to ensure a sophisticated look. The pastel pink, paired with the brighter and darker shades of blue and red combine to provide the right look. Together, the overall visual language manages to transform the skeleton of a fish and a small pile of dog s**t into something that’s actually surprisingly cute.

4. Humor

Who doesn’t love a drop of humor? When it comes to social media (especially Facebook), humor is a great way of getting people involved and engaged. If you manage to make someone “lol”, they’re more likely to want to share your post and tag their friends in the comments. Combined with imagery that makes the point quick and easy to understand, if your humor is on point, you have a winner. If the text of your post is short and clear, it may be enough to just have the joke itself written in a big bold font on a plain background. Sometimes, the right words, plus a simple design to back them up, is all that’s needed.

However, you can try tailoring other types of jokes in such a way that they’ll work well visually on social media. There are various angles you can take. If you’re comparing two things (such as morning people vs. people that can’t get up in the morning, or expectations vs. reality), try splitting the image into two, like in the post below. This kind of visual makes the point clear and people immediately understand what you’re referring to. You can also use simplified pie charts or graphs to make your point, like in these design jokes. Whatever your joke, this is the time to use clear headings and big no-nonsense fonts.

Design joke posts on social media

5. Wow

Or in other words… inspiration. There are countless ways to wow people and get them inspired. Creating beautiful visuals that will make your followers want to keep scrolling down forever, like Candyfornia Studio’s Instagram feed, is just one technique. Their post below doesn’t just make you want to dive into that delicious millennial pink world, but also gets your imagination running wild – thanks to the composition, their playful use of size (two huge ice cream cones? Yes, please!) and the fact that we only see part of the figure. These elements add a touch of mystery and intrigue.

Explore more appetizing visuals on Candyfornia Studio’s Wix website!

Another great method to get your followers inspired and their minds working, is sharing your work process online. After all, design isn’t just about the finished thing. You want your followers to feel they can relate to you. The video below was created to showcase artist William LaChance’s work, but instead of simply featuring each painting, it tells the story of his creative process. Lastly, anything involving super colorful visuals and movement is bound to catch your followers’ attention and interests.

6. Learning

There’s something extremely satisfying about learning something new. Remember when you were a kid and wanted to tell anyone that would listen what you learned at kindergarten today? Whether or not you were as nerdy as I was back then, the same goes nowadays for social media. When we discover something we didn’t know via a fascinating social post, there’s a high chance we’ll want to share it with our friends right after.

There are various ways to share knowledge in a light, digestible way. You can create “how to” videos, like this one that teaches smartphone photography tricks, while keeping everything super short and visual. You don’t even need to read the text to fully understand the point – which is crucial on social media, where text should generally be kept to a minimum. If you have a blog, consider sharing links to your blog posts on your social accounts. Another method is to create a fun, interactive game like in the image below. It invites people to take part and learn something new, while keeping the tone light. Learning doesn’t necessarily have to involve a lot of words – use icons, arrows and other imagery to explain things visually.

Illustrated game on social media post

7. So true!

This is similar to familiarity (scroll up!), but it’s more about those “a-ha!” moments. These posts connect to the cultural trends and subtexts that we’re all aware of and maybe haven’t thought about before. They’re about looking at life in a slightly different way – often, from a bit of a dark, but comical perspective. The post below does just that. Other than the fact that everyone can relate to the content (tagging their friends with “this is sooo you” etc.) and enjoy a drop of sinister humor, the choice of the word ‘sins’ also brings up a world of associations. As for the design, each illustration backs up the point and enriches the text by really explaining visually the line of thought between each ‘sin’ and social platform. The words are displayed in a shape that is reminiscent of the kinds of buttons you’d find in mobile web design, also adding to the digital vibe.

7 sins in the digital world social media post

Powerful content checklist

Other than triggering an emotion in your social media followers, here are a few bonus points to take into account when planning and designing your content: – Try to generate an immediate reaction. – Stay up to date, by addressing current social trends or topics. – Align the look and feel with your brand’s visual identity. – Make the most out of the platform you’re using, by picking the right format for your content (image, video, gif, etc.) and utilizing the features available (for example IGTV, Facebook lives and more). – Keep the text reasonably short, so that your followers can easily understand and digest the message. – Make the design visually appealing – of course! – Evoke curiosity amongst your followers if possible, making them want to find out more.

These tips will put you on the path to creating successful posts, so if you’ve made it up to this point, the chances are your engagement rates and number of followers will now be skyrocketing. Hurray! However, no matter how beautiful and emotive your visuals are, if you don’t interact with your followers, your job is not quite complete. Because after all, social media is all about being… well, social.

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