Emotional Design by Don Norman


I’m a big fan of “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman so I picked up the sequel. When the author wrote DOET, he was was frustrated about the lack of importance given to behavioural or functional aspects of design. Therefore, that book is entirely composed of functional design critiques and advice. However, he received criticisms that he ignored the other aspects of design that he then addressed in this book.

There are three aspects of design – visceral, behavioural, and reflective. Visceral is how a product looks, behavioural is about usability, and reflective is how it makes you feel.


Take the teapot above for example. The author notes that he loves it, even though it’s hard to use. The unique look (visceral) and satisfaction (reflective) that it gives him more than make up for its behavioural deficiencies.

Reflective: It’s the third component of design that the book spends most of its time on. Norman uses the example of souvenirs to highlight the role that emotions play in our attitude towards products. For e.g. souvenirs that look cheap and have little utility value are loved as they are usually associated with fond memories.

Humans have an intrinsic need to create a sense of identity. They often purchase products that reflect their identity. This is reflected in the demand for branded goods that are often similar to cheaper generic versions. Brands exploit this by attaching emotions to their brands through advertising. Hence a brand such as Rolex will associate itself with top athletes to signal high class and success.


Prior to reading this book, I had been puzzled by some of the design decisions made by Apple. For example, the mouse pictured above is usually panned for the fact that the side buttons are in fact not buttons but for design alone. After reading this book, I understood that the designers made a conscious decision to sacrifice functionality to appeal to the visceral and reflective aspects of the buyers. They went too far in my opinion, but I now understand why.

Overall, the first few chapters were interesting, but the second half of the book that goes deep into the role of emotion bored me and I skimmed over most of it. It’s not a must read in my opinion.



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