Visceral Design Starts with Feedback

What is it that makes an app so much more magnetic than a website? There’s just something about it that makes you want to visit, interact and experience it time and time again. Even the most beautifully designed website doesn’t have the same draw. Your favorite site may have a stunning layout, a flawless, intuitive flow, but it’s likely missing that element that makes mobile apps irresistible: visceral feedback.

Being instinctual as opposed to the intellectual, visceral is by its very nature difficult to describe. Visceral comes from viscera, the internal organs, and so, visceral experiences are those that come from the gut. Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why, explains that visceral experiences are tied to the limbic brain where our emotions and primal behaviors originate. Because the limbic brain is completely disconnected from the language center of the neocortex, visceral experiences are almost impossible to put into words.

So what is visceral feedback? It’s the addictive pop of bubble wrap, the lemon that makes your mouth water, the tingling in your stomach as the earth falls away when the roller coaster drops. It’s internal reaction that bypasses the intellectual brain and it’s deeply satisfying. It’s that satisfaction that draws you back. In other words, it’s the emotional feedback you get from an action that makes you want to do it again.

Video game developers have long been aware of this power; they call it “juicy” feedback, and it’s the key to making addictive games. When you complete a level in Mario Brothers fireworks go off because those fireworks make you want to go to the next level and get that reward again. When you fling the Angry Bird and it destroys the pig in a whirl of feathers, the bounce and squawk are an emotional reward that bypasses your intellectual brain altogether.

The same feedback is built into the best mobile apps. The delightful navigation on Path that responds to your touch by expanding and bouncing playfully, elicits that same visceral response. It rewards you for your action and makes navigating the app a pleasing experience you want to repeat. As in a video game, the feedback is what gives the user the visceral reward. I believe the reason that most websites lack user loyalty is because they don’t provide the same types of feedback. In order to build powerful engagement levels, websites designers need to find ways to provide that kind of feedback.

So what if websites acted like apps, providing visceral feedback for user actions? Users would interact with them more like apps, becoming more engaged, more satisfied and more compelled to return. At digital-telepathy we’ve started leveraging new browser tech like CSS3 and HTML5 to bring the visceral to web design with Impress, a new kind of website. We call them Smart Sites, because they are built to look great any screen, be it a smart phone, tablet or computer - blurring the line, we think for the best, between the app and website experience. Unlike traditional websites, we employ long-form pages to remove disruptive and disjointed page loading that comes from navigating between pages. Story-driven design creates a cohesive experience that guides you to an outcome - more like your favorite app, and less like a directionless corporate site. And most important, Smart Sites are rife with opportunities for the user to receive visceral feedback as part of the regular flow. All of which to say, from design to functionality, Smart Sites tap the user’s visceral responses to deliver a more compelling experience.

Already by employing these ideas and changing the overall feeling and behavior of our websites, we’ve seen impressive gains in conversion–even up to a doubling it in some cases. We’ve also received tremendous positive feedback from our clients and their customers. This gives us a pretty strong signal that the next step in the evolution of the Web is to continue incorporating the visceral elements that make apps so successful. We’re excited by the possibilities of this new approach for creating better experiences and getting better results from happier users. As more designers embrace the potential of visceral feedback, the Web becomes a better, more satisfying opportunity for visitors, designers and website owners alike. It’s time to create a Web where everything just feels right.


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