The Effect of Human Faces in Web Design


Sabina Idler

November 21, 2013

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Human faces are very powerful. User Experience designer Aarron Walter describes in his book Designing for Emotion why we appreciate human faces so much. He explains that we are constantly exploring the world around us by looking for something familiar. Familiarity gives us a feeling of comfort and reassurance.

“When we see a face, we are automatically triggered to feel something or to empathize with that person. If we recognize content on a website — such as a problem, dilemma, habit or whatever else — we feel connected and understood.” (Not Just Pretty: Building Emotion Into Your Websites by Sabina Idler)Since we know ourselves so well, we unconsciously try to relate everything we see to ourselves. Obviously, we do that with other human faces, but also with when there are no human features involved. Only the recognition of our body’s proportions in a design is enough for us to perceive the design as being familiar and harmonic. This is the reasoning behind headless mannequins. We subconsciously take what is on display and substitute ourselves for the mannequin due to the lack of ‘human’ in the image.

So faces add a human touch to your website – they help you trigger your emotions, which make them a powerful design element. Here are 10 effects human faces can have on your visitors.

1. Catch your visitors’ attention

Let’s start with a basic and maybe even the most powerful effect of human faces in web design. They catch your visitors’ attention. We orient ourselves by looking for familiar cues and things that we recognize. Human faces allow us to do just that. They add personality to a website and make us feel as if we are in some kind of social setting – rather than a hardcoded website.


The digital agency Inzeit say they create “ground-breaking solutions, successfully surpassing the limits for mobile development”. On their homepage, they show a big image of a beautiful women looking directly at you. Rather than stating a list of facts, Inzeit convinces people on a very personal level to enter their site. They understand what retail is about in our mobile world.

2. Guide your visitors’ line of sight

Once you have caught your visitors’ attention, human faces are a great way to also guide their line of sight. This is because we are curious by nature and if other people look at something, we want to know what it is they are looking at. Online it’s the same thing.

Whenever you decide to use faces in your design, make sure you do it in a purposeful way. If you don’t – and if you don’t test the effect of your images – there is no way you can control it. This way you not only waste a powerful opportunity to guide your visitors, you even risk distracting your visitors from what you want them to do on your site.


Dove has long discovered the power of the human sight. When visiting their website, the first thing you see is a big picture of a young woman. After that, you automatically follow her line of sight to find out what it is she seems so happy about. And in no time, you are focussing on the actual content of the site – not realizing you were somehow tricked into it.

3. Engage your visitors

Human faces are also a great way to get your visitors engaged – if you know how. They draw our attention and they make us feel comfortable by providing us with this personal touch that websites often lack.

Any interaction that involves human faces – be it our own face, or that of a stranger – has the potential to be very captivating. As mentioned before, we like faces because we recognize ourselves. When offering your visitors the option to alter faces, enhance them, or replace them with their own face, you empower them to further increase the feeling of recognition.


Edita’s Casting shows a random combination of different faces on the homepage. When scrolling down the page, the combination of the faces change. This simple interaction with the site is very powerful – triggering visitors to match skulls, eyes, and mouths until they have found a “perfect match”.

4. Visualize emotions

In his book Designing for Emotion, Aaron Walter defines emotions as the “lingua franca of humanity,” the native tongue that every human is born with. Emotional expressions are the same in every culture. People around the world understand what it feels like to laugh, or cry, or worry – and what that means.

Use emotional expressions in your design to visualize emotions. A photograph of someone expressing his feelings – for example while using your product – is much clearer and also more convincing than a bunch of descriptive text.


George Clooney has been the face for Nespresso’s ad campaigns for a while now. On the website, you see him looking down at the cup of Nespresso he holds in his hand. Coffee in general all looks the same, making it a challenge to express it’s quality or special character in a picture. However, using a human face to carry the emotions felt – only when looking at the product – is a great way to describe your product.

5. Help visitors relate

Human faces can also help your visitors relate to your product or service. Again, when we recognize ourselves – or situations that we are familiar with – we feel understood. Especially websites with a personal topic can easily appeal to their target group.

You can help your visitors relate to your site, service, or community in many different ways. For example you can show images of different kind of people, groups of those people, or faces with different emotional expressions that resemble your target group.


The website is a great initiative to bring together people who have had cancer, still have it, or are affected by the illness in any other way. The topic is very delicate and very personal. The human faces featured on the homepage and the personal quotes that come with them help visitors relate to the topic of the site and invite them to the community.

6. Create visual appeal

You can also use human faces simply for the aesthetic aspect of your design. Human faces are abound with examples of the Golden Ratio. For example, the mouth and nose are each positioned at golden sections of the distance between the eyes and the bottom of the chin. The more a face adheres to the golden ratio, and the more symmetric it is, the more attractive we think it is.


The website of Cirque du Soleil shows a very prominent, beautifully painted face on its homepage. Other than the face, the design is very minimalistic and clean. Yet, the face expresses so much human beauty that it easily bears enough excitement to fill the whole page – and to invite visitors in.

7. Create sphere

Just like one single facial expression can carry emotions, faces can also create a certain sphere. For example, one happy face indicates that someone is happy – maybe because they just heard a joke, or they enjoy something they are doing. Many happy faces together can be much more powerful.

A group of people that feels the same way can creates an infectious sphere. It can make us want to be part of the group and whatever it is they are experiencing.


The homepage of Pastbook shows a group of friends celebrating a birthday party. Even though the image is somewhat blurry and in the background, it creates a very powerful sphere on the site.

8. Create trust

Human faces can also create a feeling of trust – of course if the people we see are likeable and trustworthy looking. For example, for your team page, customer support page, or when showing quotes from your customers, use images of faces to build trust.

The web is a mediated and impersonal place. It’s not necessary to ever meet someone in person before sharing information, having a discussion, or doing business together. Yet, we prefer to know the people we interact with, because that makes it much more personal and in some way also more real. Showing who you are allows your visitors to get a better idea of you as a person and whether you can be trusted.


The team behind Pursuit show themselves as very likeable, down-to-earth guys. While they don’t take themselves too serious, their appearance shows that they very well know what they are doing. If you called them for an enquiry, it wouldn’t feel like you call complete strangers – but some nice guys, who help you find the perfect suit.

9. Create authority

Human faces – especially those of celebrities or other famous people – can create authority. Obviously, this only works if the person you decide to show on your website is believed to have expertise in the area relevant to your site or product.

For example, a politician might be an extremely well-known person, but that doesn’t mean they know anything about makeup. An actress or model on the other side isn’t expected to be very politically active. However, they are considered an authority when it comes to fashion and beauty products.


The cosmetic brand Dior advertises with Natalie Portman, who is not only successful, but also beautiful. On the site, they write: “the Oscar-winning actress shows her timeless elegance through the streets of New York, with her lipstick in hand, her must-have, her Rouge Dior of course”.

10. Make your visitors smile

Last but not least, you can use human faces to make people smile. And yes, please don’t forget to make your visitors smile every now and then. You know how some people laugh so intense that it makes you smile every time you see them laugh – even if you don’t know why they are so amused? You could perfectly use that effect for your site.

Of course, human faces don’t always have to be photographs. Illustrations, or even caricatures work just as good.


The affinity platform ChiPlatform visualize different answer options with changing emotional expressions of little illustrated characters. The faces are rather abstract, but they perfectly reflect human traits – for example of being happy or disappointed. These different faces are very expressive and also a bit exaggerated, making them even more fun.

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