Designing for Personality Types and Why You Should Care

Have you ever noticed how different TV commercials touch different emotions?

For example, commercials about life insurance show happy families because those in the market for life insurance typically desire security for their family. At the same time, a person that does not have anyone depending on them can watch that commercial and couldn’t care less… it doesn’t touch them, it doesn’t trigger their emotions.

Designing for your target market is absolutely necessary, but there is another element, a “second tier” if you will, that involves not only speaking to your target market, but also speaking and engaging on an emotional level with each of the different personality types of the people in your target market. Effective, get-people-excited-and-taking-action communication is based on emotion!

Many people may not even be aware of this and much less use it in their communications, marketing and design, however, those that do are way ahead of the game, the leaders of their industries.

So let me help you take a step forward…

There are four basic personality types which identify how a certain person will react and even interpret different situations, events and communications. Of course the study of personalities and their complexities has much deeper implications, but for the sake of this lesson, we will focus on how each personality type tends to care about different things and be “touched” more by certain emotions.

Now we all have a bit of each of the four personality types in us. This helps us to adapt to different situations where specific traits may be more useful. However, there is in most cases a dominant, default personality type which largely determines our behavior. Each type processes information differently and has different ideas about what is enjoyable and what they want in their life.

Here is the simplest explanation of the personality types that I have learned (because you want actionable information and not try to figure out what all those letters stand for)

The Four Personality Types (Sharks, Urchins, Dolphins and Whales… What?)

Shark – (Action Taker, Go Getter)
The Shark personality refers to one that is aggressive and fast to take action. Sharks don’t sit around and analyze all the details, they are either completely dedicated and ready to go or totally not interested. Sharks are highly competitive and are motivated by… “winning!”, power and control. When communicating with sharks, keep it quick and to the point.

Urchin – (Analytical, Calculated)
These are the people that need all the information including even the seemingly mundane details of… well… everything! Urchins DO sit around and analyze, they pride themselves on knowing as much as possible. Urchins are slow to make decisions because they are calculating the pros and cons. It is important to an urchin to be reassured that they have made the correct decision. When communicating with urchins, give them respect and don’t skimp on information, even if it seems to be redundant overkill. This can mean providing a way for this type of person to get more details.

Dolphin – (Social, Fun-Loving)
Dolphins are social, they’re usually the ones that it seems can talk to anyone, anywhere. They will strike up a conversation with a complete stranger and talk as if they have known them for their whole life! Dolphins tend to have a lot of friends and are motivated by recognition, social events, having fun and being a part of a group. In communicating with dolphins, get excited, show them how fun things are and emphasize the group and social aspects.

Whale – (Caring, Supporting)
Whales are motivated to be a part of the greater good, to help out and be a part of a team that is dedicated to serve others and improve the world. These are the people that you see helping wherever they can. Whales thrive on supporting others and being supported. When communicating with a whale, show compassion and be thoughtful.

I would even go so far as to say that what is appealing to one personality type is many times not even interesting to another and it’s not theory, but something that has been studied extensively and that I have observed and proven in my own personal experience. Of course, it’s not a set in stone law and everyone is different, for example, try telling a whale that they can make a lot of money and be the top achiever… in most cases the whale is not interested, but this is exactly what interests sharks.

If you didn’t understand this, you might make the mistake of assuming that the whale has no ambition. Now tell them the same thing, but explain how making a lot of money and being the top achiever can allow them to help a lot of other people and empower a team to succeed and now you have their interest. Same information, same opportunity or concept, just a slight change to the way it’s presented and the emotional triggers can make all the difference.

Of course, these are extremely condensed and rather light descriptions, but do not underestimate the power of this knowledge, use it well and you can vastly improve not only your designs, but also your communication and the way you get along with others in every area of your life.

So I urge you to use this knowledge and begin to examine the way that you communicate.  Consider the images, wording and concepts that you use to engage a certain emotion and attract a certain type of person. Don’t be happy with your designs just because they appeal to you.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  1. How are you communicating with the four personality types?
  2. What emotions do you wish to trigger?
  3. What group of people does your message target?
  4. Is that group targeted intentionally?
  5. What can you do to improve your message so that it appeals to others?


AUTHOR - Matt Greener

Matt Greener is a leading expert in online strategy for businesses and entrepreneurs. Helping propel clients to market dominance is his passion. For over a decade Matt has consulted for celebrities, CEO's and INC 500 companies, among many others. Matt takes full advantage of the fast-evolving internet, applying a potent mix of strategies with his clients. His expanding reach empowers a larger audience with powerful tools and specialized training which has placed him in high demand for business owners and individuals that desire to maximize their online potential. Matt also writes frequently for several internationally acclaimed websites including his own blog. Follow @RealMattGreener


  • Joan Harrington

    Love this post! So many valuable gold nuggets, thank you! I just had to share this with my readers….hope you do not mind!!! I love sharing value, so do not be surprised if you get more people coming to your blog….;)

    Thanks so much,

  • Cydney

    Thanks Matt!

  • Cheryl Ryning

    Thank’s for sharing this wisdom about dealing with other’s. That’s really important no matter who you are dealing with. Your post really make’s one stop and think.

    Thank’s for all the great thing’s that you share to help us be better in business.

    Warm Regard’s,
    Cheryl Ryning

  • Sanya Texeira

    Great post Matt! It’s always an interesting task when dealing with multiple personalities!

  • Joann

    Thanks Matt, there is a lot to consider when doing any kind of graphic or web design.

  • James Suggs

    Hi Matt,
    Just wanted to thank you for sharing this important
    information. It is very educational and informative.
    I’ve heard of these four personalities before, but I haven’t had them explained in such a way as you have.
    You made the personality of each come alive and give more meaning and emotion which causes us to go that extra mile in our learning to get people to know, like and trust us. This is what all of us need to learn weather it be online marketing or off line marketing.

    Thanks again,
    God Bless,
    James Suggs

    • Matt Greener

      Thanks James, this only attempts to scratch the surface as there is a LOT more to cover, but I wanted to give everyone an introduction at least!

  • Paul

    Hi Team, I have bought the pro template pack!

  • Charles Kaluwasha

    Hi Matt,
    This article has stimulated many people and you have opened the to help marketers communicate with clients effectively.

    I will also share it with my readers, of course with your permission.

    Thank you and God bless!


    • Matt Greener

      Hi Charles,

      Thanks and feel free to send your readers over:)

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