Designing For Desirability

In my last two blog posts, I explained UX methods that I’m planning to conduct for a UX report. This week, I’ve gathered details about another method that’s ideal for visual design and aesthetic appeal. This method is called desirability studies. 

Desirability studies are informative for designers to launch an engaging look for a new or existing website, making sure it responds well to the audience. They’re also helpful to know why different designs evoke specific responses from the users. 

How to do it

To begin a desirability study, you first need at least two different visual layouts of an application. The versions of the applications may be your own to test before launching or existing sites that are comparable, in preparation for a redesign. 

Next, form a list of adjectives, both positive and negative. Make sure the list is randomly assorted, so the good and bad adjectives are intertwined; however, the list may still have some structure, such as being alphabetical, if that’s what you want. The list should range from about 30-50 words. This is the main tool that participants will use when performing the study. 

Performing the desirability study is quite simple from there. Gather your participants – they may be predetermined by you, or unaimed volunteers participating in this study as a survey. Whatever works best for you as the organizer. 

The participants will then see the different visual versions of the application, and select 3-5 words that best represent each version. 

Results will help you to understand what the users thoughts are towards each design. Ultimately, knowing what the users are thinking about the design will assist the selection of which visual application to use that will respond best to the audience. 

Effective examples

Mad*Pow Media Solutions is a strategic design consulting company, which performed a desirability study in 2010 for their site. Before they conducted the study, they set up some goals of what they wanted their audience to experience when using the site.

  1. The site should feel professional and trustworthy for the users.
  2. The site should not appear too promotional which could discourage customers.
  3. The site should feel friendly and genuinely approachable.
  4. Users should feel comfortable with a sense of empathy through the design.

The goals listed above helped the design team to develop two different visual layouts for their application. 

Design 1 – Source
Design 2 – Source

The team conducted the study through a survey and separated participants into three different groups. Group one was shown only the first design option and selected five adjectives of the premade list that they thought best described the design. Group two was shown only the second design option, with the same objectives. Group three were shown both designs and asked which one they preferred. In total, the number of participants was about 150.

Their results indicated that group three was inconclusive. However, having measurability from group one and two were incredibly helpful, and resulted in design two as the winner. It ultimately portrayed more adjectives that aligned with their goals. 

From this study, the team was able to start from design two and make modifications as they saw fit, resulting in a final design.

Final Design – Source

Another desirability study was conducted for Yahoo! Personals, which used cards that represented brand values, but also used paired opposites.

Examples of the paired opposites include the following:

  • Uninteresting – interesting
  • Forgettable – captivating

Each participant that partook in the survey was given cards with predetermined adjectives and asked to select five that best matched their response to the design. After the survey, the participants were then interviewed to understand their responses and why they chose those cards. 


The team was then able to assess and deliver their best possible application for the users.

Overall, desirability studies are often overlooked as a UX method. However, they’ve proven to be very useful to launch products that the audience identifies with and align with the company’s purpose. 

I will not be conducting a desirability study for the UX report I’m creating, but that’s simply because there are other methods (like the ones I wrote about in my previous blog posts) that will be more useful at this time for the site I’m proposing a redesign for. 

Do not overlook this UX method! Implement it into your own research, and find just how helpful it can be for the design of your product.

Hawley, M. (2010, February 22). Rapid desirability testing: A case study. UXmatters. Retrieved from 

Rohrer, C. (2018, September 24). Desirability studies: Measuring aesthetic response to visual designs. XDStrategy. Retrieved from 

Pannafino, J., & Mcneil, P. (2017). UX Methods: a quick guide to user experience research methods. Cduxp.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s