Thursday, February 25, 2010

Emotional Design

(comment left on Nic Lupfer's blog)

by: Donald A. Norman

In his book, Norman goes beyond the simple usability and accordance in the design of everyday things and analyzes the emotional aspects of design and how it is that we feel about the things we encounter on a day-to-day basis.

Norman identifies three levels of emotional design:

Visceral - Associated with the most primitive and inbuilt instincts and intuition given to us by nature. This is how judge things as "pretty" (which concerns symmetrization, bright colors, etc...) or maybe "good tasting" (usually sweet things).

Behavioral - How the product feels and operates. This is the rational level of design and includes how well the instrument fulfills its purpose.

Reflective - Appeals to our emotions and includes the cultural influences that affect how we feel about the product. It makes us happy or we learn to like things bitter or sour things through "acquired taste" by reflecting on it. (see reflective level)

Norman also emphasized the role of making things fun to improve the value of a product and discussed the role of emotions in communication devices and devices where the attachment to the device comes from interpersonal actions.

From there Norman addressed his findings as it applied to robotics and his idea that effective artificial intelligence would need to have emotions reflecting the three levels of emotional design.

My spill:
Norman's ideas in this book differ greatly from his masterpiece "The Design of Everyday Things," but I think it encompasses a much more realistic (if less concrete) representation of value and use of everyday things.

Norman's split of emotional design into the three levels of visceral, behavioral, and reflective follow the traditional theories on the idea of self and seems to be an enlightening way to look at the world.

I thought Norman's ideas were most interesting when applied to the world of robotics. I've come to believe that "emotions" truly are the missing link in creating strong AI.

I will criticize Norman's work in that it doesn't seem to provide a clear guideline for maximizing any of the three aspects of emotional design although it did provide many examples of good design in each area. This makes it hard for the engineer/designer of these things to consistently make use of his ideas.

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