A human face elicits emotional responses, triggering an individual to feel something, be it empathy, happiness, excitement and the like.
Since we are born with a visual preference for faces, we are continually exploring our environment, looking closely at it in search of something familiar. Why? Because familiarity gives us a comforting and reassuring feeling.
A face prompts emotions
Emotion has been referred to as the “lingua franca of humanity,” according to Aarron Walter in his book Designing for Emotion. Walter posited that emotion is the native tongue every human being is born with.
He also describes the significant impact emotional experiences have on long-term memory. Emotion helps create an experience that allows users to feel like the other end is not a machine, that it’s organic. It makes people feel the other end is a “person.”
You simply can’t ignore that face!
Notice how you will almost instantly gravitate toward the face first in the image below than with the text?
This is probably the most basic yet the most powerful effect a human face has on web design—it catches your attention. As we consume information on a page, we subconsciously return to the face multiple times, giving us our first impression of the site and continually influence our experience as we go.
When applied correctly, faces can add personality to the site and make people feel that they’re part of a social setting rather than being in a coded website.
Let’s check out some of the ways web designers can use faces to their advantage.
Strike an emotional cord
Expressions such as crying, smiling or even worrying are universally understood, defying cultural barriers. There’s no need for language—the facial expression alone says it all.
Take for example the image below.
Regardless of your target niche, you can immediately engage your users with images of human faces carrying emotions. Why?
Instead of colourfully describing your product using the most thought-provoking words in the dictionary, it’s more effective to place a photo of a person using the product and expressing his or her emotion while using that product.
With just a single expression, you could communicate effectively why they should purchase your product, minus the lengthy description.
Influence user behaviour
If someone is doing something in a picture, it will elicit an effect on the person viewing it. If there are a number of people in the picture doing something, this effect is multiplied.
The fusiform face area (FFA), located near the brain’s emotional centre, is responsible for facial recognition. That’s why when you see a face, you experience a certain emotional response.
Web designers can, without doubt, make use of this to influence the buying behaviour of their customers.
Guide visual flow
Notice the image below. Faces also guide visual flow.
There are instances when users need a little nudge in navigating around the web design. What should they do next or look at?
Eye-tracking studies indicate that humans simply follow a line of sight in pictures. If there is a human face present in a design, we look at what they’re looking.
What does this have to do with UX design? Simple. You want to direct user’s attention to specific elements in the design.
Help users navigate the web page by placing a large image of someone looking at something. There’s a high chance you’ll be looking at that something too. If you want them to keep scrolling down, have the face looking down.
The key to building a loyal customer base is trust. If users know who they are interacting with, then they would have a better sense of building a relationship with the brand and taking that relationship further, that is, continually conducting businesses with them.
Notice how “About Us” pages often display faces of the brand’s members, from CEO right down to its contributors?
It only takes as short as 50 seconds to form one’s opinion about the website, but an image of a face can do this far quickly compared with a block of text. In UX design, adopting this strategy is highly useful for industries where trust is imperative, for example, childcare, medicine, security, etc.
Let’s face it (no pun intended), we love seeing other people’s faces. It makes us want to be a part of something. Faces help influence user behaviour or reaction, earn trust and help build relationships, which is the end goal for each brand—a lasting relationship with their consumers.
This is the idea behind using faces in web design. When strategically used, a human face is an invaluable tool in shaping and improving UX.