Humour in UX, the Elaichi in your Chai


How you doin?

I’m sure you’ve come across this very iconic line, from the show FRIENDS. If you haven’t, I don’t think we can be friends!

The power of humour

The human brain naturally retains good memories while letting go of bad ones. According to BBC news, research shows that only 42% of positive memories gradually fade away over time, compared to 60% of unpleasant experiences.

This may be the reason why people remember specifics from their fondest recollections. The same is true of a favourite movie or TV show that we are attached to. A viewer is more likely to recall a favourite scene or sentence from a film (or show) that made them feel good after seeing rather than a film that they thought was terrible.

Users emotionally connect with humour because it is linked to positive experiences. When humour is employed effectively, it aids in helping the user recall the event.

Aaron Walter’s hierarchy of user needs, talks about the four fundamental requirements a product must satisfy to deliver an optimal experience:

  • Function: Does the design work and help users meet their goals and needs?
  • Reliance: Can users get consistent results from engaging with the product?
  • Usability: How easy and quick is it to use the product?
  • Pleasure: Is it enjoyable and interesting?

Along with addressing the core functional & usability requirements, experiences must also be delightful, and that’s where humour can play an important role.

4 keys to leveraging humour in UX

1. It’s the brand, stupid

As a thumb rule, use humour sparingly but, at the end of the day how funny you can be depends on your brand personality. How much humour would a banking interface be willing to allow? How funny can a holiday booking website be?

Microsoft teams, a collaboration platform keeps their messaging simple and to the point & in sync with their brand personality. By just using a graphic and a message to inform the user that there’s an issue with the software.

Atlassian’s team collaboration tools like Jira, Confluence, and Trello let teams plan, communicate, and finish shared work. This page uses a quirky phrase to convey the brand’s friendly and upbeat personality while informing the consumer that there is a problem. The right use of humour reduces the irritability of the user attempting to complete a task.

2. Add magic to the mundane

Leverage humour in places which generally tend to be boring and mundane. Humour can be kept low-key in places like the search bar, empty messages, loading pages, about us and contact us pages, etc.

Slack, a versatile platform for professional and organisational communication, uses humour in the search bar as an attempt to positively reassure it’s users.

Gusto, a human resource management software ensures that you go get that ice cream after completing all your tasks.

3. Diffuse the tension

Use humour in situations which are likely to get users irritated (benign errors which users can easily recover from). Zomato, one of India’s most popular culinary apps, spots an opportunity to have some fun while you’re “hangry” and waiting for the page to load.

Error 404s can be funny too!

Violated expectations can indeed be funny. When anything strikes the “sweet spot,” where there is not only a violation but where the violation is also seen as harmless, it is regarded as hilarious. Learn it from Pixar!

4. High anxiety & humour don’t mix

Avoid humour in cases which are dead serious (high anxiety use cases). Humour is a secret weapon, when used appropriately. In an out of context scenario, it can surely cost you a customer too! Untimely use of humour can put users in a state of stress and the joke here would be nothing close to funny. The emotions associated to this joke would probably fail to empower the user to get their tasks done and be over the top be insulting!
You can create an entire post on Medium, a very popular publishing platform, only to get a message like this after uploading hours of laborious effort.

Let’s say, you are in San Francisco for the very first time, trying to make a flight or hotel booking. Midway through the process, you get an notification saying:

Wow, $712.85 is quite a chunk of money to troll around with, isn’t it? – Humour is a secret weapon, when used appropriately. In an out of context scenario, it can surely cost you a customer too!

Delish is a website where individuals can find recipes that inspire them to cook. It is rather offensive for the user to see “No thanks, I’ll have a microwave dinner tonight”- In some cases, a microwaved meal may be your only option given the situation.

In user experience, Humour must:
– Be consistent with the products brand personality
– And be Understood by the target audience without having to explain it

What’s the takeaway?

Using humour as a tool to be connect with the user could be very tricky. Before adding humour as a flavour to your design, it is critical to understand your audience.

Humour is a medium used to communicate the brand identity, but, the degree of humour used must be optimized to the context humour is used in. When employing humour, there are boundaries we must be cognizant of as designers. breaching this line is a sure shot way to annoy users.

Test the water to see what floats your boat at all times – be cleverly authentic & memorable!


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