Don Norman and others on Emotional Design.

Donald Norman is a cognitive psychologist and usability guru who committed himself to the development of the theory of Emotional Design. In this book he claims that attractive things work better (2004). At first glance it seems irrelevant that attractive things work better. It all comes down to the way people perceive things around them; one’s picture of beauty may be different to somebody else’s.


Norman’s work seems to be originating from Damasio’s research on emotions and brain. Damasio was the first to provide relevant proofs of strong relation between emotion and cognition (1994). Although, at first glance design, cognition and emotion seem to be distant disciplines, in my opinion Damasio’s study on emotions was a base for Norman’s concept of the emotional design.


Norman distinguished three levels of experience processing: the unconscious biological one – called visceral, subconscious one, responsible for everyday behaviours – called behavioural and the one responsible for deep cognition – called reflective (2004). All three levels are connected together and determine how we perceive the world and things. According to Norman, when designing we need to remember about these levels of processing.Nevertheless, the book Emotional Design does not mention much about practical implementations of the theory of emotional design itself. The book just presents the examples of existing products and does not show a designers’ step by step procedure of actual emotional design process. Nevertheless, Norman claims that the three levels of processing experience are guides to the three levels of designing.


The papers like Emotional Design: Application of a Research Based Design Approach by Desmet, Porcelijn and Dijk can be seen as an endorsement to Norman’s book, providing a practical induction into emotional design with a highlight on designing for WOW (2007). The wow is explained to be a combination of fascination, pleasant surprise and desire.

The authors suggest that experience of excitement motivates people to prefer certain products than others. According to Desmet, Porcelijn and van Dijk there are three product features that should be fulfilled in order for a product to be successful: basic, performance and excitement (2007). Firstly, the basic features are what the product is supposed to be delivering. Secondly the performance features ensure that the product stands out from the competitors. Lastly, the excitement features concern the experiences that customer does not expect to encounter in the product and is delighted to discover. Designers wishing to trigger a wow factor should use as many excitement features as possible. Nevertheless, the authors call attention to a fact that things which are exciting today may no longer be exciting tomorrow.


The authors mention three human concerns: goals, standards and attitudes all of which are relevant to product emotions (2007). Goals are things people want to get done. Standards are things we believe in. The attitudes are related to our likes and dislikes. This view of emotional design uses different terminology than Norman’s book however provides similar view into the issue of designing things emotionally. Similarly in the academic paper Designers and Users: Two Perspectives on Emotion and Design, Norman and computer scientist Andrew Ortony contrast users’ and designers’ points of view (2004). Designers are working on the factors like functionality, appearance, cost, brand, legacy etc. Users benefit from well designed products. Nevertheless, when creating a product, designers cannot have direct control over users’ emotional activity; however they can model it by using emotional affordances which can shape some of the users’ responses (2004). According to me, the natures of the emotional design is in putting the users in the middle of the design process and try to satisfy their various emotional needs with products designed in a way to fulfil user expectations and beyond.



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