Understanding Emotional Design

Emotions play a crucial role in how we understand and experience the world. For generations scientists, psychologists and designers have worked to capture the essence of human emotion and various ways to appeal to it. Don Norman, author of Emotional Design made some valuable observations, which every designer should be familiar with.

Where cognitive science and usability engineering merge there are three levels of emotional design:

  • Visceral Design – Concerns itself with appearances
    Visceral design refers to the feeling you get from physical appearance, branding, and presentation. You can recognize it in the weight of an expensive knife, the sleek appearance of a sports car. We are referring to the branding. In digital product design, it might be the overall look, and impressions brought about by the typography, imagery, icons and color palette.
  • Behavioral Design – Has to do with the pleasure and effectiveness of the use
    Behavioral Design is all about usability, user experience and how easy it is to get things done with the product. In digital product design, we can measure this with clicks, time to complete tasks, user comments and impressions as he/she goes through workflows.
  • Reflective Design – Considers the rationalization and intellectualization of a product
    Can a story be told about the experience? Can someone walk away with a sense of pride or accomplishment? This is the highest level of emotional design representing the conscious thought layer. Reaching this layer successfully can trigger a strong emotional response, which will cement a user’s commitment to a product or service.

Appealing to all three layers of design is very important in making the most of a product experience. People who create beautiful products that function poorly, ultimately lose users. But it goes the other way as well. We should all strive to make products which are beautiful and functional.

For more information and concrete examples, check out the book by Don Norman.