A smile in the mind

A Smile in the Mind, Beryl McAlhone's and David Stuart's design bible, showcases some of the best witty thinking in 20th century graphic design. Compulsory reading/viewing for all design students, it clearly demonstrates the power of humour, charm and quirkiness in creating a memorable brand experience.

Book cover for A Smile in the Mind
A Smile in the Mind, Beryl McAlhone and David Stuart

Although, most of ASITM is focussed on print advertising and branding from the end of last century, the principles of creating that smile in the mind are transferable into other areas of design. Interaction and interface design increasingly form a vital part of the brand experience. While most interfaces are conduits for functional interactions, eg. searching for information, or making payments, the injection of humour, however small or subtle, can give users a more positive overall experience. Positive users are more likely engage with a service or product, making them more likely to return and recommend it to their friends.

Citymapper’s interface is a great example in how a little humour goes a long way in transforming what would otherwise be a straightforward route planning interaction. In the example below, I wanted to find out how to get to Ealing Broadway from where I work in Vauxhall. For my preferred route Citymapper suggests that I Moonwalk the first leg from my office to the tube, instantly (for me anyway) creating a tiny chuckle in my brain as I picture this fleetingly. Importantly this mental chuckle doesn’t distract from my primary goal of determining my route, but it does positively enhance an otherwise mundane interaction. It doesn’t happen on every search, it appears to be displayed at random, presumably because the comic effect wear off if it became expected behaviour.

Citymapper desktop user interface
Directions from Citymapper suggest Moonwalking the first leg of a journey

The way Citymapper uses humour isn’t appropriate for every brand. A banking app couldn’t get away with being so casual — it wouldn’t inspire confidence. But there are other ways for interfaces to inject a bit of personality into user interaction. It could be making error notifications friendlier or offering helpful prompt for a required action. At the end of the day humour is human, and the more human qualities we can embed within our interface designs the more successful they will be.