How Can Emotion be Designed into Jewellery? Part 5 – Can Design be Used to Evoke Emotions Using Visual Cues?


I approached Keycomm, a group which works with Edinburgh City Council and the NHS to develop language support systems for people with communication disorders.

Keycomm uses Alternative and Augmentative Communications (AAC), a range of games, videos, posters and communication boards developed specifically to meet an individual’s needs. This example uses the vocabulary from the, Very Hungry Caterpillar book.

Associating images and words enables the person to communicate without speaking or even knowing the word.

Apparently, a serious limitation with AAC is that people with learning difficulties often do not understand emotions and feelings, so it is impossible to create a recognisable image for them.

This is the best emotions board I could find. Some of the images match the emotion eg. “sad” and “tired”, but “frustrated” and “out of control” seem interchangeable.If micro-facial expressions are universal (See Post 2 in this series), then the AAC images representing primary emotions should always be recognisable, but they are not.


The first emojis were printed in a newspaper in 1881 and were made up of existing printing symbols.

Modern emojis were developed in the 1990s by Japanese artist Shigetaka Kurita who wanted a simple icon to convey information.

Now, there are lots of emojis with a similar style across social media. This emoji chart includes labels for emotions and feelings, like the Keycomm boards.

If these emoji labels are right, I have been using some incorrectly, like using “laughing” for silly me. Maybe you have been using emojis differently too.


An Emotional Response to Visual Cues

Perhaps because emojis are more common than the personalised AAC images, they seem more universal. They certainly elicit an emotional response in most people. Don’t you smile when you receive an Emoji?

Emojis can offer a visual shortcut to emotional responses in design, which Hollie Paxton proved with her series of work:  Feeling Happy. She designed buttons for everyday objects which left a smiley imprint on people’s fingers.



Hollie Paxton’s work proves that universal visual cues can act as shortcuts to consciously elicit emotions but these don’t trigger subconscious emotions at the universal level.



NHS – National Health Service

Learning difficulties – A difference between what someone is expected to be able to do for their age and their actual abilities. Includes: dyslexia, ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), ADD (attention deficit disorder) and people on the autism spectrum

Micro-facial expressions - very fast changes to our faces. Everyone has the same expression for the same emotion and so they are universal visual clues to how someone is feeling

Emoji – A small image used to communicate information without using words

Very Hungry Caterpillar – A children’s book by Eric Carle


Further reading if this topic is of interest to you:                                

Pinterest. (2020). Flipbook via Boardmaker Share | Communication book, Speech language therapy, School social work. [online] Available at: [Accessed 14 Nov. 2019].

Research Gate. (2014). The Historical & Theoretical Foundations of the Investigation of Digital Media Interaction (or Digital Pragmatics) [draft]. [online] Available at: [Accessed 22 Nov. 2019].

Pardes, A. (2018). The Complete History of Emoji. [online] Wired. Available at: [Accessed 20 Nov. 2019].

Pinterest. (2020). What every emoji emotion actually means picture 😍😇😫🙂😛😜😱 | Every emoji, Emojis meanings, Emoji dictionary. [online] Available at: [Accessed 24 Nov. 2019]. (2020). Hollie Paxton | Designer maker. [online] Available at: [Accessed 26 Nov. 2019].


  1. Jax on 12 December 2020 at 3:53 am

    Thanks again!! Fascinating ♥️♥️
    How many parts are there? 🤣

    • Tara Lois on 12 December 2020 at 10:36 am

      Hi, I agree. The whole area of psychology and how it can be applied to create meaningful jewellery is very interesting. At the moment I have 16 parts. The next ones will start to look at colour theory in more depth and I have even done some of my own research because I couldn’t find exactly the information I wanted. It’s not statistically reliable because my sample size was too small, but it is interesting how many people matched the same colours with emotions. Then I look at shapes and visual stability. How we actually see things is another cool topic. Did you know that the blue you see could be totally differnt to what I call blue but it doesn’t matter because we both call that “colour” blue. I might add some more parts though because a friend of mine is a psychologist and she just recommended some articles by a Californian psychologist I hadn’t read yet.

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