Mullet Design: Designing for emotion in productivity apps

James Smith in Design on September 29th, 2014

Productivity applications should be simple to use, and their design should stay out of your way. But great design, especially when it’s aligned with your customers’ emotions, is a fantastic way to build a fanbase and create advocates for your brand.

How can you have unobtrusive design that’s still emotionally connecting with your customers? Most productivity apps have areas where it’s appropriate to let your brand personality shine, such as on-boarding flows, empty states, and settings pages.

By aligning with your customers’ emotions in these parts of your application, you can create a connection without interfering with day-to-day productivity tasks.

Business in the front, party in the back

The Mailbox email application does a great job of this. When reading and dealing with your emails, the interface is all business.

Once you’ve dealt with all your unread messages for the day, the Mailbox app is a little more playful, showing a unique, relaxing photo behind the Mailbox logo.

Mailbox interface

MailChimp also have a great “productivity-first” design philosophy, their dashboard is clean and easy to use, and they make use of the full width of your screen to present your data.

Sending an email campaign can be an arduous (and sometimes scary) process, so immediately after sending a campaign, MailChimp take the opportunity to be a little more playful, which aligns well with your emotions:

MailChimp high five

Get people pumped

On-boarding flows are another great chance to shine. Your customers are using your app to solve a specific problem, so when getting started, they’re almost certainly excited about everything the new tool has to offer.

Not only is on-boarding a fantastic opportunity to show off the features of your product, it’s also normally one of the first times your customers will directly interact with your brand. That first interaction is crucial for leaving a positive lasting impression.

Shopify does a great job of this. They’re able to keep their customers pumped by adding personal touches to on-boarding, then once you’re done, it’s time for business:

Shopify ready to launch

On-boarding is often an ongoing process, so empty-states are another chance to show off your brand and design prowess.

InVision App makes great use of illustrations and color to add personality to empty-states and project onboarding, which would otherwise be very boring:

InVision empty state


Great brand experiences can be memorable if you’ve taken the time to think about emotions. You can combine these approaches to add personality to your productivity app where appropriate, while ensuring you aren’t getting in the way of your customers’ day-to-day hustle.

Which productivity apps are you using that do a great job of showing their personality? Let us know on Twitter or via email!