How & Why Faces Increase User Engagement

There’s a lot of science and psychology that goes into design. Even if you don’t consciously think about it, choices that you make when selecting imagery and user interface elements can establish a connection with users (or not) and even lead to higher engagement rates.

Using actual human faces in the design is one way to do this. Seeing a face can make people more likely to engage with a design because it makes the app/website/poster feel more human. It creates a more distinct emotional connection.

Here, we’re going to look at designs that use faces in different ways and how you can up user interaction with some of the same design techniques.

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Connect with Users

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Every designer has a list of elements they lean on connect with users. Color, button size and copywriting can all impact engagement and conversions. But facial recognition can be more powerful than those other techniques.

And it’s pretty easy to accomplish.

Just think of how many faces you see in website design every day. Now think of the sites you engage with the most. Are the faces larger and more in focus? Do the people look like people you would want to hang out with?

Imagery can help a user figure out in an instant if what’s on your website is something they want to be a part of. The faces on the screen will tell a user if he or she is like the people on the screen (or wants to be like them). A positive match increases the chance of engagement. It shows the user that they can relate to your product or service.

Kissmetrics, a blog dedicated to website metrics, listed five psychological principles that help create conversions from website visitors. One of the principles is facial recognition because it attracts attention and conveys emotion:

Since faces grab attention better than nearly anything else, you can use them to direct your visitors’ focus to the key elements on a page. Even better, if you use a face that’s looking at your CTA (call to action), most visitors will follow the person’s gaze to see what they’re looking at.

Faces Set an Emotional Tone

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Have you ever noticed that when you see someone yawn, you then feel the urge to do the same?

The same can be said about almost any other emotional cue, from a smile to an expression of disgust or anger. The emotions can actually be transferred or carried from person to person and set the tone for an interaction.

And it’s not just something we think to be true. There’s science to back it up:

There is considerable agreement in our impressions, which carry significant social outcomes. Appearance matters because some facial qualities are so useful in guiding adaptive behavior that even a trace of those qualities can create an impression.

The emotional connection between users extends beyond facial expression as well to qualities that users find attractive. Because those ideas can vary by culture and age, it’s important to think about your audience and who they would like to identify with when choosing imagery for design projects. (There’s a lot of research on the topic if you want to know more.)

For purposes of creating a design that drives user engagement, the idea is to use faces that portray the right emotion for the product or service mentioned. Don’t get too caught up trying to determine attractiveness and focus on the right emotions. (Many times products come with smiling faces to establish a positive connection.)

Establish Trust

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Seeing the people involved with an organization helps establish trust between your design and the user. Faces can do this in a few ways.

  • Users can see the people involved in a project, through team photos.
  • Users can see people interacting with the product or service in a positive way.
  • Users can tell how people feel about a project from facial expressions and body language. Video can be an effective tool.
  • Show the person behind a testimonial to make it more real, such as the one above.
  • Images and video lend credibility to your brand, making it feel more authentic and real.

The more “real” people look on your website, the more users will trust them. Models that are in fake poses or don’t really seem to know how to interact with the product can actually do more harm than good. But images that have a real quality to them, such as staff photos that are a little more relaxed and show the personality of the staff can be a strong user engagement tool.

Guide Visual Flow

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Faces do more than create an emotional connection, they can help guide visual flow through a design. Users sometimes need a little help moving around a design. What should they look at or do next?

By following the eyes of a face on the screen, users will look at exactly the elements you want.

Eye contact is one of those human connections most people make without thinking about it, and users will follow the path of eyes in a design. Have the person on the screen look down to encourage scrolling, look up to highlight navigation or look left or right to guide users across the page.

Be Wary of “Fake” Faces

So there’s one type of face you probably don’t want to use in your design: The super fake stock photo face. You probably know the one. It often includes a model performing an action or in a setting with a smile that’s too big to be true.

Faces only work to establish trust and emotional connections when the idea behind the image is real. Inauthentic scenes can backfire and do more harm than good.

If you plan to use faces in design – and it is a good idea – you need to create imagery that actually represents your brand. Stock images can work, but they must be used with care. Remember, the goal is to establish a connection, something that looks cheesy won’t do that effectively.


People love to see other people. They want to be a part of something. That’s the whole idea behind using faces in design. (And why it works.)

Show people interacting with your product or service and members of your team to create that authentic, emotional connect with users. Hopefully you’ll see some direct engagement benefits from that design technique.