Note-taking: Emotional Design
Copyright: Donald. A. Norman
In creating a product, a designer has many factors to consider: the choice of material, the manufacturing method, the way the product is marketed, cost and practicality, and how easy the product is to use, to understand. But what many people don’t realise is that there is also a strong emotional component to how products are designed and put to us In this book, I argue that the emotional side of design may be more critical to a product’s success than its practical elements.
The teapots also illustrate three different aspects of design: visceral, behavioural, and reflective. Visceral design concerns itself with appearances. Here is where the Nanna teapot excels一I so enjoy its appearance, especially when filled with the amber hues of tea, lit from beneath by the flame of its warming candle. Behavioral design has to do with the pleasure and effectiveness of use. Here both the tilting teapot and my little metal ball are winners. Finally, reflective design considers the rationalisation and intellectualisation of a product.
Visceral, behavioural, and reflective: These three very different dimensions are interwoven through any design. It is not possible to have design without all three. But more important, note how these three components interweave both emotions and cognition.
This is so despite the common tendency to pit cognition against emotion. Whereas emotion is said to be hot. animalistic, and irrational, cognition is cool, human, and logical. This contrast comes from a long intellectual tradition that prides itself on rational, logical reasoning. Emotions are out of place in a polite, sophisticated society. They are remnants of our animal origins, but we humans must learn to rise above them. At least, that is the perceived wisdom.
Nonsense! Emotions are inseparable from and a necessary part of cognition. Everything we do, everything we think is tinged with emotion, much of it subconscious. In turn, our emotions change the way we think, and serve as constant guides to appropriate behaviour, steering us away from the bad, guiding us toward the good.
Usable designs are not necessarily enjoyable to use. And, as my three-teapot story indicates, an attractive design is not necessarily the most efficient. But must these attributes be in conflict? Can beauty and brains, pleasure and usability, go hand in hand?
Indeed, I was one of the early workers in the fields that today are known as cognitive psychology and cognitive science. The field of usability design takes root in cognitive science — a combination of cognitive psychology, computer science, and engineering, analytical fields whose members pride themselves on scientific rigor and logical thought.
My reasoning told me that colour was unimportant but my emotional reaction told me otherwise.
The surprise is that we now have evidence that aesthetically pleasing objects enable you to work better. As I shall demonstrate, products and systems that make you feel good are easier to deal with and produce more harmonious results. When you wash and polish your car, doesn’t it seem to drive better? when you bathe and dress up in clean, fancy clothes, don’t you feel better? And when you use a wonderful, well-balanced, aesthetically pleasing garden or woodworking tool, tennis racket or pair of skis, don’t you perform better?
These and related findings suggest the role of aesthetics in product design: attractive things make people feel good, which in turn makes them think more creatively. How does that make something easier to use? Simple, by making it easier for people to find solutions to the problems they encounter. With most products, if the first thing you try fails to produce the desired result, the most natural response is to try again, only with more effort.
My studies of emotion, conducted with my colleagues Andrew Ortony and William Revelle, professors in the Psychology Department at Northwestern University, suggest that these human attributes result from three different levels of the brain: the automatic, prewired layer, called the visceral level; the part that contains the brain processes that control everyday behaviour, known as the behavioural level; and the contemplative part of the brain, or the reflective level. Each level plays a different role in the total functioning of people. And, as I discuss in detail in chapter 3, each level requires a different style of design.
The behavioural level is not conscious, which is why you can successfully drive your automobile subconsciously at the behavioural level while consciously thinking of something else at the reflective level. Skilled performers make use of this facility. Thus, skilled piano players can let their fingers play automatically while they reflect upon the higher-order structure of the music. This is why they can hold conversations while playing and why performers sometimes lose their place in the music and have to listen to themselves play to find out where they are. That is, the reflective level was lost. but the behavioural level did just fine.
The three levels interact with one another, each modulating the others. When activity is initiated from the lowest, visceral levels, it is called “bottom-up.” When the activity comes from the highest, reflective level, it is called “top-down” behavior. These terms come from the standard way of showing the processing structures of the brain, with the bottom layers associated with interpreting sensory inputs to the body and the top layers associated with higher thought processes, much as I illustrated in Figure 1.1. Bottom-up processes are those driven by perception whereas top-down are driven by thought. The brain changes its manner of operation when bathed in the liquid chemicals called neurotransmitters. A neurotransmitter does what its name implies: It changes how neurons transmit neural impulses from one nerve cell to another (that is, across synapses). Some neurotransminers enhance transmission, some inhibit it. See, hear, feel, or otherwise sense the environment, and the affecrive system passes judgment, alerting other centers in the brain, and releasing neurotransmitters appropriate to the affective state. That s bottom-up activarion. Think something at the reflective level and the thoughts are transmitted to the lower levels which, in turn, triggers neurotransmitters.
The result is that everything you do has both a cognitive and an affective component — — cognitive to assign meaning, affective to assign value. You cannot escape affect: it is always there. More important, the affective state, whether positive or negative affect, changes how we think.
THIS STORY shows the several levels of the cognitive and emotional system一visceral, behavioural, and reflective一at work, fighting among themselves. First, the most basic visceral level responds with pleasure to seeing the well-designed leather case and gleaming stainless-steel instruments and to feeling their comfortable heft. That visceral response is immediate and positive, triggering the reflective system to think back about the past, many decades ago, “the good old days,” when my friend and I actually used those tools. But the more we reflect upon the past, the more we remember the actual negative experiences and herein lies the conflict with the initial visceral reaction.
The behavioural level is about use, about experience with a product. But experience itself has many facets: function, performance, and usability. A product’s function specifies what activities it supports, what it is meant to do — — if the functions are inadequate or of no interest, the product is of little value. Performance is about how well the product does those desired functions — — if the performance is inadequate, the product fails. Usability describes the ease with which the user of the product can understand how it works and how to get it to perform. Confuse or frustrate the person who is using the product and negative emotions result. But if the product does what is needed, if it is fun to use and easy to satisfy goals with it, then the result is warm, positive affect.
Of the three levels, the reflective one is the most vulnerable to variability through culture, experience, education, and individual differences. This level can also override the others. Hence, one person’s liking for otherwise distasteful or frightening visceral experiences that might repel others, or another’s intellectual dismissal of designs others find attractive and appealing. Sophistication often brings with it a peculiar disdain for popular appeal, where the very aspects of a design that make it appeal to many people distress some intellectuals.
There is one other distinction among the levels: time. The visceral and behavioural levels are about “now,” your feelings and experiences while actually seeing or using the product. But the reflective level extends much longer — through reflection you remember the past and contemplate the future. Reflective design, therefore, is about longterm relations, about the feelings of satisfaction produced by owning, displaying, and using a product. A person’s self-identity is located within the reflective level, and here is where the interaction between the product and your identity is important as demonstrated in pride (or shame) of ownership or use. Customer interaction and service matter at this level.
Visceral design : Appearance
Behavioural design : The pleasure and effectiveness of use
Reflective design : Self-image, personal satisfaction, memories
The answer is, of course, that no single product can hope to satisfy everyone. The designer must know the audience for whom the product is intended. Although I have described the three levels separately, any real experience involves all three: a single level is rare in practice, and if it exists at all is most likely to come from the reflective level than from the behavioural or the visceral.
The distinction between the terms needs and ants is a traditional way of describing the difference between what is truly necessary for a person’s activities (needs) versus what a person asks for (wants). Needs are determined by the task: A pail is needed to carry water; some sort of carrying case is needed to transport papers back and forth to work. Wants are determined by culture, by advertising, by the way one views oneself and one’s self-image. Although a student’s backpack or even a paper bag would work perfectly fine for carrying papers, it might be embarrassing to carry one into a serious “power” business meeting. Embarrassment is, of course, an emotion that reflects one ‘s sense of the appropriateness of behaviour and is really all in the mind. Product designers and marketing executives know that wants can often be more powerful than needs in determining the success of a product.
PHOTOGRAPHS, MORE than almost anything else, have a special emotional appeal: they are personal, they tell stories. The power of personal photography lies in its ability to transport the viewer back in time to some socially relevant event. Personal photographs are mementos, reminders, and social instruments, allowing memories to be shared acrosstime, place, and people. In the year 2000, there were about 200 million cameras in the United States alone, or around two cameras per household; with these cameras people took around 20 billion photographs. With the advent of digital cameras, it is no longer possible to know just how many pictures are being taken, but probably a lot more.
Thus, although we like to look at photographs, we do not like to take the time to do the work required to maintain them and keep them accessible. The design challenge is to keep the virtues while removing the barriers: make it easier to store, send. share. Make it easier to find just the desired pictures years after they have been taken and put into storage. These are not easy problems, but until they are overcome, we will not reap the full benefits of photography.
Visceral design is what nature does. We humans evolved to coexist in the environment of other humans, animals, plants, landscapes, weather, and other natural phenomena. As a result, we are exquisitely tuned to receive powerful emotional signals from the environment that get interpreted automatically at the visceral level.
Because visceral design is about initial reactions, it can be studied quite simply by putting people in front of a design and waiting for reactions.
Behavioural design is all about use. Appearance doesn't t really matter. Rationale doesn’t matter. Performance does. This is the aspect design that practitioners in the usability community focus upon.
What matters here are four components of good behavioural design: function, understandability, usability, and physical feel.
There are two kinds of product development: enhancement and innovation. Enhancement means to take some existing product or service and make it better. Innovation provides a completely new way of doing something, or a completely new thing to do, something that was not possible before. Of the two, enhancements are much easier.
One cannot evaluate an innovation by asking potential customers for their views. This requires people to imagine something they have no experience with.
People have said they would really like some products that then failed in the marketplace. Similarly, they have said they were simple; not interested in products that went on to become huge market successes. The cellular telephone is a good example.
Enhancements to a product come primarily by watching how peo. pie use what exists today, discovering difficulties, and then overcoming them. Even here, however, it can be more difficult to determine the real needs than might seem obvious. People find it difficult to articulate their real problems. Even if they are aware of a problem they don’t often think of it as a design issue. Ever struggle with a key, to discover that you are inserting it upside down? Or ever lock your keys inside the automobile? Or lock the car, only to realize that you left the windows open, so you have to unlock the car and lean inside to close them? In any of these cases, would you think these were design flaws? Probably not, probably you just blamed yourself. Well, they all could be corrected by appropriate designs. Why not design a symmetrical key that works no matter which way it is inserted into a lock? Why not design cars so that the key is required to lock the doors, making it much less likely that the car can be locked with the key inside? Why not make it possible to close the windows from outside the car? All of these designs now exist, but it took clever observations for the designers to recognise that the problems could be overcome.
Reflective design covers a lot of territory. It is all about IT about culture, and about the meaning of a product or its use. For one, it is about the meaning of things, the personal remembrances something evokes. For another, very different thing, it is about self-image and the message a product sends to others. Whenever you notice that the colour of someone’s socks matches the rest of his or her clothes or whether those clothes are right for the occasion, you are concerned with reflective self-image.
Physio-pleasure. Pleasures of the body. Sights, sounds, smells, taste, and touch. Physio-pleasure combines many aspects of the visceral level with some of the behavioral level.
Socio-pleasure. Social pleasure derived from interaction with others. Jordan points out that many products play an important social role, either by design or by accident. All communication technologies whether telephone, cell phone, email, instant messaging, or even regular mail — — play important social roles by design. Sometimes the social pleasure derives serendipitously as a byproduct of usage. Thus, the office coffeemaker and mailroom serve as focal points for impromptu gatherings at the office. Similarly, the kitchen is the focal point for many social interactions in the home. Socio-pleasure, therefore, combines aspects of both behavioural and reflective design.
Psycho-pleasure. This aspect of pleasure deals with people s reactions and psychological state during the use of products. Psycho-pleasure resides at the behavioral level.
Ideo-pleasure. Here lies the reflection on the experience. This is where one appreciates the aesthetics, or the quality, or perhaps the extent to which a product enhances life and respects the environment. As Jordan points out, the value of many products comes from the statement they make. When displayed so that others can see them, they provide ideo-pleasure to the extent that they signify the value judgments of their owner. Ideo-pleasure clearly lies at the reflective level.
Technology often forces us into situations where we can’t live without the technology even though we may actively dislike its impact. Or we may love what the technology provides us while hating the frustrations encountered while trying to use it. Love and hate: two conflicting emotions, but commonly combined to form an enduring, if uncomfortable, relationship. These love-hate relationships can be amazingly stable.
The good news is that the new technologies enable us always to feel connected, to be able to share our thoughts and feelings no matter where we are, no matter what we are doing, independent of the time or time zone. The bad news is, of course, those very same things. If all my friends were always to keep in touch, there would be no time for anything else. Life would be filled with interruptions, twenty-four hours a day. Each interaction alone would be pleasant and rewarding, but the total impact would be overwhelming.
The problem, however, is that the ease of short, brief communication with friends around the world disrupts the normal, everyday social interaction Here, the only hope is for a change in social acceptance.
We are all designers — — and have to be. Professional designers can make things that are attractive and that work well. They can create beautiful products that we fall in love with at first sight. They can create products that fulfil our needs, that are easy to understand, easy to use, and that work just the way we want them to. Pleasurable to behold, pleasurable to use. But they cannot make something personal, make something we bond to. Nobody can do that for us: we must do it for ourselves.