A Peak Inside My Pencil Case

Emotional Design

In Don Norman’s book Emotional Design, he posits there are three levels of design that corresponds to levels of human emotional and cognitive processing: visceral, behavioural, and reflective.

Just as a recap, Normal simplifies these three levels as:

  • Visceral → Initial impact or appearance
  • Behavioural → The pleasure and effectiveness of use
  • Reflective → What it makes you think about (i.e self-image, personal satisfaction, memories) and what others think of you

Alan Cooper’s goal-directed design methods, which heavily uses personas and goals, can be directly applied to Norman’s three levels of design. Cooper’s three types of goals reflect the motivations of the persona and how they are expressed as Norman’s levels of processing.

Experience goals explain how a persona wants to feel when using a product. This has to do with the sensory characteristics ― how it looks or sounds or feels ― of the product. Experience goals maps directly to the visceral level of processing.

End goals describe what a persona wants to accomplish by using the product. A product or service has the ability to help the user accomplish some goal, either directly or indirectly. The end goal is the focus of functional aspects of the product/service, and is paralleled to the behavioural level of processing.

Lastly, life goals describe the persona’s long-term goals, desires, and self-image. This is about how the product connects to the persona and maps to the reflective level of processing.

As I read this, I attempted to reflect (no pun intended) on what product in my life elicits strong emotions, makes me think back on my experiences when I use them, is highly functional and is visually appealing. Is there anything that I use that addresses all three levels of processing in my room?


After a few minutes of contemplation, I found it: my pens and pencils.

I am not a great artist but sketching brings me a calm sense of joy. People say that a true artist can create art regardless of the quality of their tools, that a great artist can make an equally moving piece of art with paint as with ketchup. But I am no great artist and I like cool toys. So to me, the tools matter.

I have an array of pencils, pens, markers, and even different types of papers that vary in weight, colour and texture. Each one of them have an assigned purpose, whether it is to use to write with, to sketch with, to ink with or even just to look at.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to a few pieces in my pencil case:


Designing for the visceral level means addressing the initial experience or interaction with the product before any deeper involvement occurs. It isn’t about how you use it but how you perceive it for the first time. The goal of designing for the visceral is to get a user to “fall in love at first sight”.

Pentel Graph Gear 1000 Mechanical Drafting Pencil, 0.5mm

15 x 15 x 152 mm (363 g)

These tools are beautiful. The pencil is 363 grams and has a “sophisticated brush metal barrel”. It is cool to the touch and it is my heaviest utensil in my pencil case (and the most expensive). It has a chiseled metallic grip with inlaid soft pads. The Graph Gear is a matte silver colour, and when I pick it up, the weight makes it feels like quality. It is precisely crafted. And while the combination of weight and narrow diameter of the barrel makes holding it border on uncomfortable, it still feels oddly satisfying.

Pentel Tradio Pulaman, Black Ink (TRJ50–2L)

20 x 15 x 145 mm (14 g)

The Pentel Tradio Pulaman is like a fountain pen with a plastic nib. It weighs 14 grams, a little lighter than expected, and has an intriguing design. The visual aspect of it is utilitarian, but the highlight of this marker is the novel design of the nib. Each time I open the cap of the marker, I’m struck with a fleeting fascination with the nib. You can draw narrow lines with the tip or broad strokes on an angle like you might with a shading pencil. This is what initially caught my eye at the stationary store in Japan. Look at the picture. Are you not intrigued?

Cooper’s Goals

What do I want to feel when I use this product? I want to feel professional. I want to feel in control. The aesthetics and other sensory aspects of these tools satisfy those experience goals.


Designing for the behavioural level of processing is really about designing to complement the user’s behaviours, assumptions and mental models. It has to do with accomplishments and doing tasks. The experience of using the product should illicit positive emotions. The design should meet the user’s functional expectations of what it should feel like to us it. Should it be fun? Should it write smooth? Should it dry as fast as my other pen? Yes, yes, and yes.

Staedtler Pigment Liner, 0.3mm, Black Ink

7.5 x 7.5 x 140 mm (5.7 g)

The Staedtler Pigment Liner collection is my only set of pens that I did not buy for myself. But is by far my favourite pen. The nib is stiffer than all of my other pens and the ink is indelible, smooth, waterproof and lightfast. It dries instantly. It performs exactly as I expect a pen should work. The Staedtler Pigment Liner is my perfectly-balanced chef’s knife.

Pigma Sensei Sakura Drawing Pen, 1.0 mm , Black Ink

13 x 13 x 140 mm (8.5 g)

The Pigma Sensei Sakura feels cheap. It is made of only plastic components and it certainly feels that way. But the nib feels smooth when it guides across the page and the ink does not bleed through my papers. The felt tip is soft but never bends out of shape. It is my go-to marker to block out shadows. While it feels cheap, there is no question that it is functional.

Cooper’s Goals

These pens fulfil my end goals. My end goals when using inking markers is to create smooth lines with little pressure, to finish quickly with minimal error, to create a beautiful (or passable) sketches. With these pens, I can erase the underlying pencil marks almost as soon as I lay down my layer of ink without smudging. Not only can I get the job done using these tools, it feels good doing it.


Reflective processing is about conscious thought and reflection on previous experiences. It is about creating lasting brand relationships. Sometimes it has to do with style or identifying with culture or perhaps it’s just a striking idea. Designs that address the reflective level of processing requires the product to make a cultural or personal connection with the user.

Pentel Flexfit II PW35 Mechanical Pencil, 0.5 mm

5 x 48 x 146 mm(45 g)

Some people think this pencil looks horrible. But it is actually my favourite pencil I have ever used. The grip is flexible and squishy, with a diameter 16 mm at grip section and 10 mm at main body. Balance point is about 65 mm up from the tip which is lower than expected but a delight to use. It writes smooth but smudges a tad more than I’d like.

But the Flexfit II is still my favourite. This is likely the pencil that started my brand loyalty to Pentel (more easily seen in my collection of pencils than pens). I still remember that my piano teacher, Joanne, gave me my first one when I was 14. I remember how upset I was when I lost one on an airplane when I was 18. I remember writing hundreds of pages of notes using this pencil throughout high school and university. If there is a single tool in my pencil case that represents “Marsha” the most, it is the Flexfit II.

Cooper’s Goals

So how does this pencil fit in with my life goals? I want to stand out from among my peers. I want to succeed in my ambitions to prototype and communicate ideas efficiently. I want a career in design strategy. I want to make beautiful things. While this pen is not the magic wand that makes all my dreams come true, it is easy to imagine it always being on my person as I pursue them. Not only do I reflect on the time spent using this pencil and how it represents me in the past, but I can project it’s worth and meaning to me in the future.

Now… on to erasers…

Just kidding.