5 Tips for a More Engaging Design

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At UI UX Training we often receive questions about how to deliver connect with users without resorting to fads and gimmicks. In this post we outline five tips for a more engaging design based on psychology and sound design principles.

Tip 1: Show Me the Love

While Aaron Chichioco focuses on designing a successful live chat experience, the triggers he outlines are useful for many design contexts.

Self-love: People are focused on their own needs and desires: “This self-love translates in a longing for other people to show interest in them,” explains Chichioco. This basic idea might sound obvious. Yet, how many sites feature extensive “About Us” or “Company History” pages that prospects barely read? Lose the company self-love in favor of crisp, compelling copy that speaks to your customers and prospects. The harrys.com home page makes it about the customer: “You deserve a great shave at a fair price,” followed by a clear call-to-action, “Get Started.” Everything about this page focuses on the customer, not the company.


Tip 2: Don’t Strain my Brain

Chichioco cites a study by the University of Basel and Google showing that the brain takes less than half a second  to judge a website’s aesthetic and functionality. Part of that processing is how easily the page can be understood.

That’s not a lot of time to retain the user’s attention. Avoid poor contrast, saturated colors, and too many choices.


Instead, include appealing imagery and a message that users can easily understand. In the example below, the large image with SEO in the coffee cup clearly conveys the core service, search engine optimization. The copy conveys the services this firm offers, get found and convert site visitors to customers (full disclosure, we know the people who run this firm).


Tip 3: Offer a Few Appealing Choices

As Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper established in their famous jam study, more isn’t always better. Lepper and Iyengar set up a table with samples of 24 varieties of jam. On another day, they set up a similar table but with only six varieties of jam. The display with 24 jams attracted more interest: “But when the time came to purchase, people who saw the large display were one-tenth as likely to buy as people who saw the small display”

Many designers, product managers, and executives find this point to be counterintuitive believing that consumers want more over everything. The jam study is not the exception, however. Other research has confirmed Iyengar and Lepper’s findings. For example, as the number of snacks and soft drinks increases, convenience store sales volume decreases.

These findings should not surprise UX designers. Avoiding cognitive overload is a fundamental principle in all things UX, something frys.com fails to do.


In contrast, property insurance company Lemonade offers two, straightforward choices.

lemonade-insurance-engaging design-simple-choices

Tip #4: Empty States for Engaging Design

Rather than overwhelm users, focus on techniques like empty states: “Empty states are screens in your UI that are not yet full of information. That is to say, they are screens which will eventually have content on them when the user populates them,” explains the Just in Mind team in Everything you need to know about empty state design. Examples include a cleared inbox, an initial on-boarding screen for new users, or an empty text message on a phone.


The example above is what the author calls a “sad, blank, empty state. Properly implemented, however, empty states can provide an engaging user experience. Techniques to engage users include:

  • Including a call-to-action button that encourages users to do something specific such as find their friends on a social media app that they’ve just installed.
  • Adding an image with a humorous or neutral tone that is consistent with your brand.
  • Including a helpful message. For an empty email screen, the message could be: “Empty in drafts. Save a draft message, and it will end up here.”

Don’t overlook this part of the user’s experience: “Empty states are an easy UX win. An empty state won’t be the reason that your app becomes the most successful thing in the world, but it goes far in delighting the user.”

Tip 5: Scenarios for Engaging Design

In a previous post about learning, we summarized Jared Spool’s insights about the power of scenarios for creating engaging design. Spool opens his article When It Comes To Personas, The Real Value Is In The Scenarios with a clever quote by Kim Goodwin: “Personas without scenarios are like characters with no plot.” The risk of skipping scenarios, writes Spool, is that personas end up on the shelf.

Research is the key to devising useful scenarios as Spool explains in Making Personas Useful by Making Them Scenario-based.

  • Personas based on roles are too vague because roles are imprecise.
  • Instead, start with research to test hypotheses about a few scenarios. For example, through research, Spool’s team discovered that one of two scenarios related to job postings was far more frequent than the other. The result was a focus on the most common scenario.
  • This research also showed the team how each persona differed from the others.
  • Finally, the research drove the personas: “These weren’t personas we created to figure out who to research. They were personas that emerged from the variations we saw once we started our research. We’ve found this to be a much easier way to get to more accurate and nuanced personas,” writes Spool.

Research-based scenarios are essential to constructing streamlined task flows and engaging designs that will draw and retain users’ attention.

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