This week in ux-clinic: Can UI be funny?

This week in the ux-clinic discussion group:

We’re supposed to be designing a short tutorial for an on-line banking web-app. One of our designers made a kick-ass prototype that centers on humor (excellent cartoons of dropped ATM cards, customers crying after early withdrawls, etc.) – but the rest of the team is afraid to use it. Everyone from marketing to management has no experience using humor in design, and I need some help.

I think it’s totally appropriate, but I can’t for the life of me think of other examples where humor has been used in mainstream designs.

Can humor be appropriate in design? How do you decide when? Do you know of any examples of mainstream designs that use humor, even in documentation or support? Or are there good reasons why 99% of all design work everywhere is humorless?

5 Responses to “This week in ux-clinic: Can UI be funny?”

  1. freepeng

    It’s very interesting question.

    My opinion: It depends on who and what you design for. In this instance, I think it inappropriate to use humor in the atm design.

    When user using the atm, what they care most include the reliability and safety except other factors like easy-to-use, effectiveness, efficiency. Now the question maybe turn into whether the humor can contribute much for this or not.

    UCD can answer the question clearly.

  2. factory53

    It would be a tough sell to a banking client that you would like to use humor in their brand new banking application. A load of care is required when it comes to the masses out there and the way they feel about banking *online/atm/phone*.

    For instance, your early withdrawl animation, I’m laughing at the the thought beacuse there’s a good chance it won’t happen to me, but a user might see this as the bank forshadowing a customers bad experience…which is going to happen, but at the time it may be enough of a bad user experience to cause a customer to book and change banks. Your client won’t like that result…this would be a better time to swap that funny animation with an offer to help with financial management services that the bank offers *upsell too* !

    Your use of humor question is awesome…perhaps for a different purpose…learning aids, online shopping, etc…

    With new generations having vastly different outlooks on what is considered an “OK” sense of humor for different applications, you may want to ask this question again every couple of years…see how the answer changes and do some focus groups and usability testing, you might be surprised and come up with an entirely new UI concept that the masses love.


  3. Nataku

    There could be legitimate reason why humour was kept out but I think the grasp has probably spread too far and seeped into other areas where it should be fine to use humour to diffuse situations or just engage people.

    I think it will depend on situations in the main. In the situation of a tutorial I don’t see why people don’t try and add humour to it. It should ease people into it and more likely to remember things or maybe go through it again.

    If the situation is something more like what freepeng suggest with an ATM machine, well I know that having cartoons and the like shown whilst I’m using the machine would most likely drive me nuts. I’m there for a quick and simple transaction, the more seamless and effortless it is the better. I’m going to be paying attention at what’s going on around me as well as what is happening with the machine. Having cartoons or bits of humour would be a waste as I wouldn’t want to distract myself from the task in hand which is a quick in-and-out.

    I definitely think that it is something we need but it needs to be implemented in the right situations and in the correct way. I think tutorials and learning aids would be great as you hope to only need to go through things once or twice (and as I said before, it tends to stick out more in your mind, although possibly because humour is used so rarely in such cases?). But anything where you would be going through a number of times, well after seeing the same thing after the initial couple of times, well it would probably start to grate than anything else.

  4. Dmitri Zimin(e)

    Question of humor is simple: who is going to be laughting?
    Is it customers? Or is it only developers?

    We do software for the customer, and also for ourselves. Adding good humor is stylish, it’s a true mark of talent that separate good from great. As soon as this adds to positive customer experience, and not just the matter of developers making fun of their work at customer’s expence.

    Like with a good joke, no prescriptive recepies there when to share it and when to keep it for yourself.

  5. Poochee

    I can see stronf reasons why, humour should be tied in to the culture and personality of your software, and from then tied into a reward system.

    You may want to think when your user intereact with your software- who is he really dealing with- is your software Tom Hanks? John Black? Vince Vaughn? I think that will give you better idea of how you can use humour.

    So reward them humour only when it makes them happy- not when perplexed or confused.


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