What can UX learn from Don Draper?

by Caroline Butler on 19 October 2015

Coming from a background in advertising, publishing and art direction, one of my primary goals as a designer has always been to try get the customer to make an emotional connection with the product I'm creating; to make them feel something when they are using it and to discover the relevance it has in their lives.

The concept of creating emotional design has been around for a very long time. Some of the advertisers of the 1950s were great pioneers of getting consumers to connect through the ads they were creating for products.

I would love digital products to be marketed or designed in a way that taps into the emotional needs of users.

In 1959, the 'Think Small' ad for the Volkswagen Beetle changed advertising dramatically. Created by Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB) advertising agency, this ad and others that followed moved away from the previous over-hyped sales-style campaigns in favour of something wittier, more delightful and self-deprecating.

Volkswagen car ad from the 1950s.


The VW ads were more interesting and engaging than anything that came before. They became the talk of many offices with people reading the ads out to one another and talking about them at the water cooler.

Mad Men – moving from advertising to UX?

One popular embodiment – albeit a fictitious one – of this period in the advertising industry is Donald Draper of Mad Men. In the famous clip below, Draper walks us through how technology can provide a key channel for our emotions: he 'sells' the emotional benefit of a slide wheel, through the 'sentimental bond' it can provide.

Mad Men: The Carousel from raychancc on Vimeo.

So how well does the design industry today work with the next level of connection with their consumers? I think we're close but we're not there yet. To give an example, Dropbox has a function called The Carousel, but it's being marketed in a considerably different way to the carousel mentioned in the video.

Dropbox app Carousel feature

The mobile app version states that the benefit of using The Carousel is 'to free up iPhone space'. This is a practical function and definitely a worthy benefit, but it doesn't stir any emotions in me. Surely it's worth mentioning what the consequences are of not backing up my memories, the photos of my friends, families and life moments? After all, photos are often the thing that people would grab as they flee out of a burning house.

I would love digital products to be marketed or designed in a way that taps into the emotional needs of users. This could be as simple as a timely notification, kindly reminding me to back up memories to keep them safe and readily available. Maybe The Carousel can produce photo books for me on a regular basis without requiring any input from me? We're starting to see some of this in apps like Google Photos, which groups similar photos in 'stories', and which can display photos from the same date several years ago to provide some nostalgia, but I think there's a lot more room to explore.

I believe that UX is currently where advertising was in the 1950s. We're on the cusp of making things far more engaging and delightful, moving away from the functional to more emotionally connected experiences.

It's what we're striving for here at Webcredible, and what we hope to achieve on some level for all of our clients. If you're looking for new ways to come up with ideas on how to deliver great experiences for your users, why not check out our training course around innovation and product development, or get in touch with us?

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