We Need More Humor in Our Designs

As designers we try to think of how we can best serve the user. For many of us that is distilled down into how can I make this easier and quicker for the user to accomplish their goals. We look to best practices to help guide us and try to come up with new innovative ideas. While all of this is good, I believe that when it’s appropriate we should try to emotionally engage the user. One of the ways we can accomplish this is by adding humor into our designs and the users’ experiences.


Humor is a great human emotional experience. It’s used in pickup lines, the stories we pass down through our families and the overabundance of silly cat videos on the internet. Sometimes it’s as if the internet was built to bring all cultures together and foster understanding through cat videos.

Humor bonds us through a shared experience and helps us to relate to one another. When we conduct user research we gain insights to our users and how they think. This helps us when we move into design to make the digital world complement their world. This understanding of our users can enable us to add elements of humor into our designs. Making the interaction more human helps to foster an emotional relationship with the user. Showing someone that you know what they think is funny lets them know that you understand them.


There are reasons why well into adulthood we’re able to remember things like the order of the planets in the solar system. With funny stories or acronyms our teachers (or Screech on Saved by the Bell) made it easier for our brains to recall this rarely accessed information. Most of the stories that we pass down in our families are based in humor. No matter how many times we have told them or heard them we still enjoy them.

The same is true for interactions. We can use humor to help teach users new interactions so that they are able to remember them in the future. Through the use of humorous terminology Yelp teaches the user that they can use the map to refine their search results.

MailChimp uses humorous forward facing silhouettes of people such as Princess Leia and Marge Simpson to help educate new users about how email subscription forms and lists work.

It Benefits the User

Humor has been documented to provide benefits such as increased creativity, reduced stress, improved self-esteem and resilience, and increased problem solving. By incorporating humor in to our designs for challenging and difficult tasks we can boost our users’ ability to handle them. This ultimately results in a better and more compelling user experience. One of the most common examples of this is humorous 404 error pages. Here we can see NPRs 404 page that calls attention to other lost things therefore removing some of the blame and helping to communicate that sometimes things get lost. This is all done while directing the user to perform another search.


Some of the best uses of humor in websites or applications is when it treated similarly to easter eggs in movies or video games. These elements are often times somewhat hidden so that when the user encounters them they get to feel like they discovered something fun and entertaining. The users’ emotional bond is further fortified by not only being amused but also the feeling that they are in on a secret. One of my favorite examples of this when you tap on “Add to Cart” in the Zappos iPhone app a fluffy kitten with an umbrella adds the product to your cart.

A challenge with using humor is knowing when it’s appropriate. As we learn about our users hopefully we understand them in a way that allows us to integrate humor into our designs. With the integration of humor into their interactions and experiences we can help them to have a better relationship and a more positive and memorable experience with the web site or software.