Human Emotions Constrained by Design

Likeability of Facebook Posts

While scrolling through my Facebook feed, I reflect on the images that I chose to post – many depicting my family, friends and travel adventures. Why had I chosen these exact photos? Why had I not posted numerous of my other photos?   I determined, like most social media users, that I uploaded the images that I considered to be the most “likeable.” People post photos that, hopefully, will impress friends and ultimately obtain a personal record of “likes.” Who ever knew that one small button could have such a significant impact on people.


“No Such Thing As A Small Detail”

Due to the significance of the “like” button, it isn’t surprising to learn the amount of time and thought that went into redesigning the tiny button. In Margaret Gould Stewart’s Ted talk, Stewart reveals that a Facebook designer spent several months and over 280 hours redesigning the “like” button. Although this is a button that most people use everyday, we don’t give much thought to it. Yet, the “like” button is…

Seen, on average, 22 billion times a day and on over 7.5 million websites.

Range of Human Emotions in One Row

However, at the beginning of this year, Facebook implemented emoji “Reactions” so that individuals can further illustrate his or her love or distaste for an image or status. Users can still respond to friends’ posts with the traditional “like” button or chose to select five additional emojis inlcudiing love, haha, wow, sad, and angry.

These “Reactions” were also a pain the butt to design.  A lot of a attention needed to be paid to the small details.  Julie Zhuo, a product design director at Facebook who worked on the reactions product knew it would be diffult to design the full range of human emotions in a few small emojis.  As a result, Zhou enlisted the help of Dacher Keltner, a science consultant on Pixar’s Inside Out.  Originally, Zhou and Keltner wanted to include 20+ additional emojis but were restricted by engineering.  In the end, Facebook decided to

Focus on the sentiments its users expressed most often.

More Ways to Express Yourself

The new emojj “Reactions” include a heart (for when liking it just doesn’t suffice), a sad face (for when humane societies’ stories make you want to cry), an angry face (for when you disagree with people’s political views), a surprised face (for when your friends get engaged), and a laughing face (for when cats videos are shared). The additional reactions allow individuals to react to news and information in a wider ranger of ways.

For example, I always felt uncomfortable “liking” a friend’s post regarding an unexpected passing of a loved one or pet.  I can now have a more appropriate reaction using the “sad” emoji.


The Forbes article Facebook No Longer Just Has A ‘Like’ Button, Thanks to Global Launch of Emoji Reactions, claims…

Users who have ”Reactions” have already been responding more frequently to posts than users without them.

I feel, this is a result of users having more authentic ways of responding to the variety of posts and comments that are shared on Facebook daily.

Emojis Are A Universal Language

The “like button” is recognized all over the world; therefore, emoji “Reactions” needed to be as well.  Initially, the new emojis were only available in seven countries – Ireland, Spain, Chile, the Philippines, Portugal, Columbia, and Japan.  Sammi Krug, a project manager at Facebook, explains that the countries were chosen to represent diverse cultures and languages to ensure “Reactions” would be understood universally.  “Reactions” were rolled out to the rest of the world after receiving feedback from the above countries.





  1. Before reading this, I never paid too much attention to the underlying motivation behind choosing the photos that I share on facebook. Beyond that, I definitely feel your pain when it comes to confusion about hitting “like” on a friend’s sad post. Do you think that the new range of emotions that people are able to express via emoji reactions will affect people’s decisions to share content in a different way than when only a “like” button available? For example, if someone is considering posting something that is heavily political, could the angry face be a deterrent?

  2. Nice post. As you can imagine, the introduction of reactions caused a pretty big stir in #IS6621 last year. It was also one of my best moments as a professor, too. Although the news had leaked that “something” was coming, I successfully predicted the design about 2-3 weeks ahead of time. Class that semester was quite impressed with me.

  3. Interesting post! I agree with your notion about the thought that goes into positing pictures that will achieve the most likes- this is actually something that I also mentioned in my first blog post so I can relate specifically to that point!. It is also a factor that I think about before I post a picture as well. It is interesting that a simple “thumbs up” sign could have such implications for how we can feel about our likeability as well as the impact we have on our social network. In addition, the new emotions available on Facebook have expanded our ability to indicate how we feel about a situation. This may be similar to Instagram filters- these filters allow us to persuade a certain feeling… or in some cases, can allow us to achieve those likes that we hope for when positing a picture on social media. Overall, your post was very engaging and I enjoyed reading it!

  4. emmaharney21 · ·

    Interesting insights! I really like how you connected your post to the Ted talk we read for class. One of the restrictions of technology is truly capturing human emotion and expression. For example we have long been taught that you should not try and text/email sarcasm because it is difficult to convey. We know that it is a possibility people will misconstrue our feelings or tone in technology based correspondence. You do a great job of explaining how this inefficiency of technology is inspiring Facebook to make changes. I specifically liked your example of the sad post. I think this is a very clear case in when the traditional “like” button was failing consumers. I also wonder if we will eventually grow out of the emotion options Facebook has updated to. This makes me consider what the future is in social media and technologies attempt to convey the human emotion.

  5. kdphilippi18 · ·

    Great post! You pointed out another great example of the extensive time and effort put into design. Before taking this class, I had never thought about the number of hours and thought that was spend on designing these icons. Now I can see why – the amount of time users see these icons is astounding. As you mentioned, they are recognized throughout the globe. I am also a huge fan of the expanded emojis because they allow users to better express themselves, however, it would be interesting to know how many people are actually utilizing the different emotions and people that are continuing to use just the like button.

  6. I love the title of this post! It perfectly encapsulates the dilemma that both Facebook engineers faced in designing the “Reaction” buttons and that Facebook users face on a daily basis when interacting with the platform. I think it’s still too early to see how the use of these new buttons will evolve. As mentioned in the previous comment, we don’t really know how many people are actually using the Reactions versus how many have stuck to the like button. In my view, the like button is something that people are more familiar with, and therefore more comfortable using. They know that their friends will understand what they mean if they “like” a post, and thus they continue to use that feature over the new Reactions. I have yet to see a post with more Reactions than likes, so only time will tell if users shift to digitally expressing their full range of emotions.

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