Emotional Design (2004), Donald Norman lays out his theory of emotional design,
explaining the three levels of how we interact with product design. Explain what these
three levels are and how they function, and then discuss them in relation to two products
of your choice. Does Norman’s theory help us to understand product design?
Emotions play a very important part in our daily lives. Emotions provide values for are judgment to what we consider important and what we see as dispensable, what is considered urgent and what isn’t. Cognitions works with are emotions to form are actions for our daily lives. “Cognition is the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses” .(oxforddictionaries.com) These tow functions make the foundations of Donald Normans emotional design.
Don Norman, A professor of phycology, a professor of cognitive science, a professor of computer science and a vice president of advance technology at Apple and the author of Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things (2007). Emotional design is an approach based on understanding how to deliver the appropriate emotions through a product to creates a positive long-lasting interaction between the consumer and the product. According to Don Norman the delivery of appropriate emotions will corelate to the success of a product. To achieve an emotional response designer, must consider the connection formed between an object and its user, and witch emotions that can be generated using said product (Don Norman).
Emotions have an integral part in are development, understanding and interaction with the world around us. For example, a positive experience stimulates us to be more involved and willing to participate, however a negative experience is unenjoyable and keeps up from repeating said action again. A positive emotional experience may be categorised by emotions such as pleasure and repeatability. A negative experience may be categorised with the generation of emotions such as anxiety and fear, however this is all dependent on context of the product, as a horror themed experience these generated emotions are a desirable reaction for the consumer. Don Norman states that humans form emotional connections with a product on three separate levels of cognition, visceral, behaviour and reflective. These three distinct levels of emotions are classified as separate but are all linked and influence each other to create are general emotional experiences of the world. A designer should consider human interaction at each level of cognitions to achieve the appropriate emotional experience resulting in a positive user experience. (Don Norman)
The visceral level is the most primate level of processing and comes from a learned emotional response that has assisted in human’s co-existence of life. Humans have evolved in a shared environment consisting of other animals, fruit, plants etc, as a result we have been particularly tuned to a certain set of visceral stimuli. Humans prefer certain shapes and colours based on a positive emotional reinforcement that has helped us evolve, for example fruits and flowers have had to coexist with animals. animals like bees and birds become attracted to plants, this attraction aided the spreading of pollen by birds, whilst primates became attracted to fruits which aided the dispensation of seeds. Fruit and flowers have the general aesthetic consisting of vibrant colours, with comfortable to hold aesthetics. These physical attributes of flowers and fruits also have a general sensation attached to them, eg flowers having a pleasant uromor, and fruit tasting sweet (Don Norman). This has resulted in humans being more attracted to things such as specific colours and shapes as they arc back to a primitive learnt preference, for example red is often used in warning sign to attract attention indicating danger, while a lot of poisonous berries are frequently red. The visceral level is very superficial and makes quick subconscious judgments. It also is impressionable to the other levels of cognition.
Behavioural is the next level of emotional cognition. This level is focused on usability and the pleasure a user receives from a products effectiveness. Physical appearance is irrelevant at the behavioural level. Designer must understand what the client’s needs are, then how the product will be used to meets these needs “After function comes understanding.” (Norman, 2007). On a behavioural level the success of a product is established on it effectiveness of fulfilling its designed needs. Don Norman states that good behavioural design focuses on four elements “function, understandability, usability, and physical feel”. “Good behavioural design is like a lock and key. Customers and their behaviour are the lock, the product is the key. Perfect harmony is achieved when the two works smoothly.” (Mikllos Philips)
Reflective design is based on how the user perceive a product or service after using it, what emotions have been triggered in retrospect. The Reflective level uses memories formed on the visceral and behavioural levels to construct a conscience emotional response. The reflective level can be influenced by a variety of validating conditions such as culture, education and individual differences (Norman, 2007). The reflective level also influences the visceral and behavioural level of cognition, Don Norman states this can effect are “pride and self-identity”. For example, someone likes a Prius (image 1) this person appreciates its minimalist appearance and fuel-efficient engine, to get to this positive reflective stage of cognition the car had to pass the first two levels of visceral and behavioural. However, if this person peers where to have a negative perception of the car then this person preconceived reflective response may be revaluated and changed to be more in accordance with the groups values. This change is because the internal positive response was not in line with the groups, making them an outsider, this negative emotion is now associated with the car and a new set of values will avoid this social disapproval from happening again. As the person reflective values have changed due to social pressures this will influences their visceral and behavioural values to also change, this is so their responses on other matters are also more in line with the groups values. The reflective level is a conscience analyse whereas the other two levels of cognition are subconscious results that affect are emotional response. This overriding of values results in people compromising practicality over usability to gain non-functional reflective benefits.
My first object the Mac Book pro when first released (2006) had huge functional deficiencies and usability problems. Even with these difficulties, it did not impede the Laptop generating the largest revenue worldwide in the laptop industry in its first year of release. The laptops successes cannot have been due to a behavioural level of cognition, because the product simply didn’t function “anywhere near its full potential” ( www.techradar.com 2006). However, buyers perceived the Macbook to be “sleek” and “well designed”. Buyers overlooked its poorly designed software functions which is explained by Don Norman when he states, that the perception of superior quality and performance is based on good visceral design, “attractive things work better”(Don Norman). This notion of perceived superiority is supported by Japanese researchers Mengxing Zhang, Feng Wang, Hui Deng, Jibin Yin. These researchers constructed two different interfaces for ATM machines. Both ATM machines contained the same function, however one of the interfaces was designed to be more “attractive” than the other. The findings illustrated that the interface which was more attractive was perceived to be easier to use. Products that are considered to have a pleasing aesthetic, improves customers satisfaction. customers are then more likely to forgive inconveniences and frustrations within the product.
The software problems with the Macbook pro were later fixed, this made the Pro “both beautiful and beautifully intuitive” piece of machinery, this consideration on the behavioural level is what evolved the MacBook pro. The laptop went from being purchased just because of its ascetic, to be a requirement in certain fields like engineering and music producing as it “revolutionised” the tech industry. Its ease of use while being able to run mutable programmes made it a standalone product of its time. The MacBook pro became an essential tool to perform certain jobs efficiently and effectively not yet seen by other laptops on the market at the time. ( www.techradar.com 2007)
Apple’s use of emotional design is integral to their design philosophies, it is so successful that more than 1 billion Apple devices are currently active in the world and 79% of the UK population have an Apple product. This loyalty to the Apple brand can be praised to the design philosophy developed by Steve Jobs that includes elements of emotional design. “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer – that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs, CEO Apple Computer, Inc. in The Guts of a New Machine”.
People have emotional relationships with their machines which has given the rise of anthropomorphism: “the tendency to project intentions, human qualities, behaviours, emotions, and character traits onto inanimate objects.” The Mac Book Pro has features like this that please the behavioural level of cognition. For example, the Breathing status LED indicator, this flickering LED light indicates when the laptop is in sleep mode, this feature is highly thought out and is designed to appeal to the user’s psychology. “Apple carried out research into breathing rates during sleep and used that figure to derive a model for how the light should behave to create the most relaxing atmosphere and make the product seem more human than robot”. This feature is aimed at people who suffer with anxiety as it provides a soothing experience. Features like this within the laptop help forms levels of emotional connections that affects both on the behavioural and reflective level, “It completes me”, “It makes me feel smart” (www.macworld.co.uk). Features like this make the laptop into a source of comfort and customers form an emotional connection. This connection develops into trust with the Mac and the Apple brand itself, this trust moves the laptop from being an object to a “friend” (Norman, 2007). This development of trust is integral for consumers as it enable buyers to repletely purchase new generations of a brand. Trust develops into dependence as consumer believe “they can’t operate without it” (Norman, 2007). This use of emotional design is arguably one of the main reasons for the Laptops and the Apple brands immense success.
My second object is an old action figure. This is an object with no real value, it’s not made from a valuable material, it’s not rare, it’s not effective at performing its designed function of amusing children as its been described as “Scary” and “unfriendly” by its target audience. It also has no real social benefits of owning but its perceived by myself as being more valuable than the MacBook pro. Products like this which are attached with sentimentality, work simply as a visual cue for memories. This visual stimulation is the only real importance of the product. Remembering the positive emotions attached to an object, generates a feeling of familiarity and nostalgia. The normal standards of the visceral and behavioural level are overridden by the affection the product provides on a reflective level. The visceral response stimulates the reflective level of cognition to remember the reason for the formation of emotional connection. (Norman, 2007).
When the adult participants first interacted with this toy, they stated they would not personally own it, as they saw it as “unavailable” and “useless, it doesn’t do anything”. These reactions show the visceral level making quick judgments based on their first interaction. Furthermore, when the participants proceed to explore the function of the product they found the pull cord that would activate the voice line generated by the action figure. However, disappointment prevailed when no results happened after pulling said cord, further reinforcing the first negative response formed on the visceral level. The additional behavioural level of disappointment, further cementing the perception of the “uselessness” of the product.
These perceptions from participant are completely valid as they are generated by all three levels of emotional cognition. However, these participants do not share the childhood memories and experiences associated with this toy. The attachment isn’t to the toy its self but to what the toy represents, what the toy signifies and symbolises. Therefore, the reflective level imparts such high regard for this object, as the emotions and memories are stored within the visual cue of the product itself. The visceral and behavioural level has learned to supress its standards and give way to nostalgia stored on the reflective level.
In conclusion Don Norman believes that good design is generated from addressing and fulfilling all three levels of emotional design. He illustrates in his book how products are evaluated on the visceral, behavioural and reflective level, reflective being the hardest level to persuade. Don Norman’s theory of emotional design helps us understand how to make objects that provide us with pleasure while having a specific characteristics and usefulness, so that it will become an integral aspect of our daily lives. Don Norman also addresses the negative use of emotional design that can manipulate consumer. He illustrates how a wide range of products simply appeal to consumer solely on a visceral level. The abuse of solely designing for the visceral level is to achieve a quick sale and is one of the reasons we have a “through away culture”. This is when products are simply designed to tantalise and overwhelm are visceral level, “I want it.” “What does it do?” “How much does it cost?” The instant gyrification from purchasing these visceral products is short lived as the realisation of the products uselessness because apparent on the behavioural and reflective level. This is a immoral but very profitable business model for certain companies which is also highly addictive for consumer. Don Norman states that Good design focus on all three levels of emotions to achieve a successful product that will also reduce are through away culture.
Emotions are a very powerful system that work within the body, the common perception that actioning based on emotion is not an intelligent response is incorrect as Don Norman states there is “emotional intelligence”. People most favourite objects are ones that have an emotional attachment eg a toy that tells a story that captures the mind and the heart of its owner, these are the things people treasure the most. Design is all about fitting peoples needs and are needs vary, sometimes we need a designed that really works well for a certain job like the interface on the MacBook pro and sometimes we want something that just makes us feel good. Sometimes in life objects need to be functional and effective whilst somethings can be more warm, loving and emotional. We need this balance between the tow in are world of design, this is what makes us human, this is what makes us individuals.