Designing Humor

/ July 11, 2017/ Frontend

Designing humor. Can we really do that? Or was it just a pun (or is it fun?). Including something funny or amusing into our designs can have positive effects. Humor can reduce stress from pain or any negative feeling. It lightens up the mood of everyone. In fact, most of us prefer to hang out with people with a good sense of humor, right?

A funny meme or video can go viral. A joke, an anecdote, or even an embarrassing photo can be shared on social media. These are just instances when humor comes alive online. But it is also subjective. People feel a joke is funny, others may say “it’s corny!”, and a few may be offended.

Incorporating humor in web design can be employed to create a positive user experience. It can separate you from the rest of the crowd. However, be careful in incorporating it in web design. A humorous design must maintain your brand and it should not look like you’re trying too hard to be funny. Going too far makes it fail. For one, it is subjective. For another, the humor doesn’t fit.

So how do we incorporate humor in our web design?

Principles of Humor

In order for us to incorporate humor in our designs well, we should know why people laugh at a joke while others don’t. Different scholars have proposed different theories on humor and here are some of them:

  1. The Superiority Theory of Plato and Aristotle states that people laugh at the misfortune of others. This may explain teasing and slapstick but not why people laugh on knock-knock jokes.
  2. Sigmund Freud’s Relief Theory states that humor is a way for people to release psychological tension, overcome their inhibitions, and reveal their suppressed fears and desires. This may explain green jokes but not much about intended puns.
  3. The Incongruity Theory states that humor arises when there’s an inconsistency between what people expect to happen and what actually happens. However, this doesn’t explain why some jokes aren’t funny.
  4. The Benign-Violation Theory states that humor arises when something seems wrong or threatening is also simultaneously OK or safe. Therefore, a joke can fail if it’s benign (or boring) or violent (or offensive). In order to be funny, a joke has to be between the two extremes. A dirty joke, for example, deals on moral or social violations, but it’s only going to get a laugh if the person listening is liberated enough to consider it OK. Tickling, on the other hand, is violating someone’s physical space but it’s funny because it’s benign. People can’t tickle themselves.

Humor Slows Down Readers in a good way

Using humor is an attempt to slow down users for them to process everything. It’s called “elaboration”. They need to pay attention to focus on any incongruity, benignity or violence in the humor to get the message. This slow down is something positive because once the audience gets the message and positively reacts, the experience is something good like better name recall, etc. So this is something we shouldn’t be afraid. Users wouldn’t mind the humor as long as they don’t find it inappropriate.

Types of Humor

  1. Comparison & Contrast – comparing two events, products, or any two different things can be humorous especially if their contrasts are highlighted in a funny way
  2. Personification – bringing an inanimate object alive can be funny as long as it’s not annoying
  3. Exaggeration – overstating or magnifying something out of proportion is comedy as long as it drives the point
  4. Pun – uses elements of language to create new meanings that result in humor.
  5. Silliness – funny, ludicrous, sarcastic… name it, it can be silly, therefore humorous
  6. Surprise – pranks, punchlines, and other unexpected elements can be funny but be careful not to be offensive

When to Put That Humor

  1. On the About Us page – Humor can be commonly found in the About Us page. This is where the website owner shows its personality.
  2. When giving information – There are some websites that use humor in proving their terms and conditions or privacy policy without being offensive or condescending. As mentioned earlier, people tend to slow down and pay attention to appropriate humor.
  3. When building brand – Injecting humor to a brand’s personality creates an impression. But branding has to be consistent across all channels.
  4. In chatbots – Incorporating a chat tool is one way to communicate closely to your customers. Add humor and you’ve got a personality.
  5. On the 404 page – Make those static pages alive by injecting humor on a simple 404 page.

When Not to be Funny

  1. When accomplishing critical tasks – Humor should not distract users when accomplishing forms or purchases on your website. If a transaction failed, don’t make fun out of it.
  2. Confirmshaming – It is a term for using a web user’ guilt as leverage for heeding a call to action. Like deleting an account or unsubscribing. Don’t try to strong arm them into doing something they don’t want.
  3. When you’re providing false information – People make fun on April Fool’s Day. But sadly, false information like pranks and parody can be misleading. And once a user is affected, your brand decreases its trust rating because of a poorly done humor.

Humor can give you an edge to stand out from the rest of the crowd in the whole worldwide web if done properly. It can lighten up things and make people smile for awhile. However, inappropriate humor can damage your brand if you come across as condescending or insulting. It is better to not use humor at all rather than risk it and having to apologize later on.



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