How To Connect With Website Users Through Humour

July 2018
 minute read
man working in an office looking happy with sticky note on head that reads be happy

Humor is one of the best things about life. Without it, life would be pretty depressing not to mention boring. Humor lightens a tense situation, it cheers people up, and just because you’re not face to face with someone, humor through web-based design certainly has its benefits.

A positive user experience is of utmost importance. Humor can help with that. Making someone laugh is a great way to keep a user intrigued, so here’s 25 ways to incorporate humor into your design.

1. Slow Your User Down With Humor

An active use of humor to attempt to slow down users’ ability to process information is beneficial. Researchers call this “elaboration,” a fancy word for paying close attention. If users “elaborate” on humorous messages within your content, researchers believe that it will lead to increased processing and greater recall of the joke and the content it was placed in. Also, new research suggests that humor creates a memorable experience for the user, which is all that really matters in the end.

2. Don’t Be Repetitive: Use a Mix of the Six Different Types of Humor

With humor, context matters. Choose the correct type of humor according to the situation in order to be both funny and professional. Below are the six types of humor, and the situations where they’re most successful.

  • COMPARISON: This humor puts two or more elements together to produce a humorous contrast. Apple’s old “Get a Mac” commercials featuring our friends Mac and PC were examples of comparison. There was humor in comparing the hip and cool Mac to the boring and stuffy PC. It also had elements of exaggeration (covered below), given that it is doubtful Mac users share all of the traits of the Mac in the commercial (and, likewise, the PC users with the PC).
  • PERSONIFICATION: This attributes human characteristics to animals, plants and objects. Personification helps us understand complex concepts and might also make people more receptive to information. Clippy, the Microsoft Office assistant, is an example of personification. Microsoft’s hope was that a funny personified paperclip would help users learn critical tasks in the Office programs. Clippy is no longer with us, but personification continues. Users found Clippy to be annoying and intrusive, highlighting the need for us to understand our users and their context before bombarding them with what we consider to be humorous. Clippy actually slowed things down, a death sentence for any product meant to promote productivity.
  • EXAGGERATION: This overstates or magnifies something out of proportion. Exaggeration is often used to drive home a point. There’s evidence that exaggeration makes people more aware you are trying to make a point, but not necessarily more open to the point you are making.
  • PUN: This uses elements of language to create new meanings that result in humor. Researchers have found that people are better able to remember puns over other types of information. You could take advantage of puns to make parts of your experience more memorable or to increase the likelihood that users will remember certain parts of their experience (such as their password).
  • SILLINESS: This ranges from a funny face to a ludicrous situation. Sarcastic comments and situations could be classified as silliness. We see a lot of silly humor online and in movies. Philosophers suggest that this type of humor allows us to laugh at ourselves, a potential for removing barriers to learning and critical thinking.
  • SURPRISE: Humor can arise from an unexpected situation, like a prank. Not everyone finds pranks funny, but the intent is to create a surprisingly humorous situation.

Where/When To Use Humor On Your Website?

On your website’s “ABOUT” page 

Users visit your “ABOUT” page to learn more about your website’s/company's employees, its history, its mission, and its culture. If appropriate, showing a sense of humor on this page could convince a user that you are friendly and kind, and with the rest of the content, hopefully users will be impressed by your openness.

  • To convey information: If something’s funny, people pay attention to it. If appropriate, adding humor to otherwise boring but necessary information keeps your user engaged and happy.
  • In chatbots: If a chatbot has a personality (especially a humorous one) users are more likely to remain engaged with your website. In an article for NPR, Shay Maunz writes about the need for chatbots to have a warm and human-like personality for long-term success. You will need to account for some level of humor if you want your chatbot to have human-like conversational aspects.
  • On the 404 page: Many websites have humorous 404 pages because it curbs the frustration of users who are looking for a specific page on your website. Along these lines, if you have another particularly frustrating aspect of the website (such as login information gathering, legal forms, etc) adding humor to reduce stress is something to look into.

Where/When To NOT Use Humor On Your Website?

  • For accomplishing critically important tasks: Users typically want to get through important tasks efficiently and carefully, and adding humor here could make the user think your website is wasting their time. Also, the addition of humor could be confusing as well.
  • If the humor is not funny, overly sarcastic or mean: If the joke’s not funny? Don’t put it on your website. People will just think you’re stupid. Also, if you’re being overly sarcastic or mean? You could make an enemy out of a potential user, which is the last thing you want to happen.
  • When the humor provides false information: Never lie to your user. If you do, they won’t trust you ever again.

All in all, humor can be beneficial to both website developers and users. If done well, humor can make a website/company more likeable and it can brighten a user’s day. On the other hand, if not done well, it can make a website/company unlikeable and it can dampen a user’s day. Point of the story? Be careful and responsible with the humor you post.


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