From 404s to Designers’ Emotion Projection

What is being mindfully unemotional?


Leslie Mu

3 years ago | 4 min read

I recently bumped into a Pinterest folder, which intrigued me to contemplate how emotional 404-page designs should be. My opinion, in short, is that they should be mindfully unemotional. I’d tend to believe that contextually choosing not to be emotional in design is also emotional design.

The :( 404s

Examples below are some emotional 404s:

These tearful figures communicate a sense of unhappiness, or wrongness, presuming many of us would instinctively perceive things that trigger unhappiness are wrong.

In general, it’s considered good UX to offer users an action button when things go unexpected — a button to return to the home page, create a post, add an event…just do something. Nonetheless, even though it might not be intentional by design, a sad UI with an action that prompts users to do something with the underlined intention to fix the sadness, to me, sounds a bit manipulating.

It’s hard to keep away from thinking if the designers behind it are unconsciously projecting such emotion onto their work — their feelings when encountering the no-data-ness, no-messages-ness, or we may call them the “nothingness.”

From seeing how those 404s pronounce sadness outspokenly, it seems to be veiled that there is a process of the emotional transition from nothingness, to loneliness, to, which I don’t think is very necessary, sadness.

What is being mindfully unemotional?

Here are some good examples — 404s that are visually appealing, witty, and delightful, no tears. They retain the strength of humour and rationality. Such visuals look and feel peaceful, confident, and assuaging. As a user, I feel assured that nothing is catastrophic, and I can keep calm and click some helpful buttons, which reciprocates the design’s tranquillity.

Humour is a charming power. Inevitably things go wrong all the time, and as designers, we are many times, not the hero that can fix things for you. But the last thing we could do when life happens is to try sprinkling some design knack to bring up a smile on your face.

Our Success team very kindly acknowledging my “no story” state design for the app. (Please disregard the problematic right-sidebar graph. It’s an old screenshot)

How does nothingness look like at NiceJob?

We try our best not to project negative emotions. Instead, we assist the engagement between the user and the nothingness with playfulness, and of course, accompanied with proper explanations and actionable instructions.

We want to keep the judgments up to the users — are 404s funny oops or the end of the world, permitting they are also subject to their emotional negativity.

This notion also applies to any no-data pages in our app — it’s ok if there’s no data, no stories, no people. We don’t think you are thus lonely or unsuccessful or in desperate need of pinging someone to get something immediately so that you and we can feel better.

Nonetheless, it’s not really about feeling better; it’s about how our product can help you reach your goal.

Feeling better, or eliminating the negative emotion, is a thing out of instant satisfaction, which we don’t believe is necessary for our users to be proactive.

In other words, our users’ behaviour should stem from aspiration, not fear (of loneliness or sadness or nothingness).

A few examples of the no-data states in the NiceJob app. The first winking face one is the one our dear Success team kindly commented on.

Your designerly way of living is. In. Your. Work.

Designers, as human beings, project our knowledge, emotion, and life attitude implicitly on what we make. I would argue that it is our responsibility to not only pursue professional growth but also be mindful and careful of how we construct our way of living.

Tiny snaps — a graphic, a word in UX writing, or how red a destructive colour should be, deliver our beliefs and values to other human beings and make differences.

How do designers understand it when life happens? What’s their way of coping with feelings? What are the things they talk about every day (complaining about noisy crows in the morning or admiring random stray cats)? If they are used to getting control of their emotions when bad feelings occur,

there’s a good chance that they would shrug 404s away and project the same calmness in their work.

As designers, we could try to be mindful of what kind of emotion the design is articulating, and see if the instance can serve us as a touchpoint where we can be retrospective about our perception of certain things, i.e. is nothingness necessarily wrong?

I would like to consider product and user relationships as good friends. You always have a choice of what kind of emotion you want to amplify when spending time with yourself and extending it to your social connections.

With friends, we still celebrate positive emotions while acknowledging negative ones without inducing the ideation “this is how you should feel!!!” to each other, which I think can be a reference for what products could do.


Created by

Leslie Mu

Product Designer at NiceJob. The fluff between technology and human. I have a disease of buying books.







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