Emotional Design | Climax Media

Emotional Design

To help humans connect to and remember products.

Emotional design strives to create products that elicit appropriate emotions in order to create a positive experience for the user.

Habituation is the diminishing of physiological or emotional response to a frequently repeated stimulus. Our brains get used to everyday things in an effort save our limited brain power to learn new things.

As designers, we are tasked to break habituation and create a memorable product. In an effort to bring joy and delight to our products and services, we first have to understand a little about what else is going on in our brains. There are two major sides to the human brain:

The first is side is cognitively focused – which means we’re trying to understand the world around us.

The second side is emotionally focused –  arguably the most important, because emotion is all about assigning value to things in our world.

Overall, we as humans aren’t great at memory recall. However, it does seem clear that as a general rule, we remember emotionally charged events better than the boring ones. To design memorable and delightful products, a designer should consider the levels of Emotional Design by Don Norman.

Emotional Design is broken up into three levels:

  1. Visceral Design
  2. Behavioural Design
  3. Reflective Design

Visceral Design

Visceral Design starts with our initial reaction to something and the immediate emotional impact it has on us. Powerful emotional signals are sent from the item we are engaging with and are automatically interpreted by our brain.

Some dominating factors designers pay attention to on the visceral level of design are:

We can see these factors come to life in a big way across advertising and children’s toys.

What are some of your immediate reactions?

I want it?
How much does it cost?
What does it do?

By design, these advertisements are meant to make you feel all of the above and this serves a purpose. 
What about the motorcycle itself? Harley Davidson’s have a unique powerful rumble, and that sound definitely triggers a visceral reaction.

A designer can prove if their work achieves the visceral reaction they’re looking for by simply putting people in front of their work and waiting for reactions. If you’re always designing on a visceral level, your work will be attractive and simple.

Behavioural Design

Behavioural Design is about use and performance. At the heart of every piece of practical design there is a function. Functions can be achieved in a variety of ways, but there are four basic principals a designer needs to consider to create a product that fulfills it’s intended function:

  1. function
  2. understandability
  3. usability
  4. physical feel

Consider a pencil. Imagine you had never seen a pencil before, and someone placed one in your hand and requested you write your name. In a few moments you could begin to understand the pencils intended function and the pencil would fulfill its needs. If the pencil didn’t write, then the behaviour is null.

A designer must be mindful of people’s varying needs. Simply designing a functional product might not be as obvious to a designer as they think. Designers have to watch their users to understand how they will use a product in this stage.

Reflective Design

Reflective design is the most conscious level of emotion. It’s in this consciousness that the users engage with a product and think about how it relates to them. It’s the reason why we are attracted to something if it looks more expensive. If reflective design is all about the user’s self-image, then it’s essence is all in the mind of the beholder.

To design on this emotional level, a designer must understand the meaning of objects and the personal and often heavy emotional story humans attach to them. At this level, designers use information from both visceral and behavioural levels. They combine their own knowledge and experiences – utilizing a message, wit, culture, and meaning for a product and how it is used.

Nicholas Hayek of Swatch describes the brand;
“Emotional products are about a message – a strong exciting distinct message that tells people who you are and why you do what you do. There are many elements that make up the Swatch message. High quality, low-cost, provocative, joy of life, but the most important element of the Swatch message is the hardest for others to copy. Ultimately we are not offering watches. We are offering our own personal culture.”

Design is all about fitting people’s needs. Sometimes, we really just need something that works well and is reliable; the product’s attractiveness is less important. Other times, we just want something that makes us feel good – and we purchase those beautiful shoes even though they’re less than practical.

As designers, we need to understand the differences between the two, and how to apply them to a product for it to be successful for it’s intended users.

When asked how to design to enhance visual, behavioural, or reflective emotion, Don Norman – author of Emotional Design says:

“The weakest part of emotional design is actually knowing how to build those emotions. We can’t put those emotions into the product or the service. Emotions are in the minds and bodies of the people. So we have to figure out how to make a product or service that delivers in the person, the emotions we care about. That still is an art, and intuition.”