Understanding the emotions consumers feel about the objects you sell can help your business make the most of its product designs. Expert Donald Norman explains how being attractive, fun and enjoyable makes a product better. He explains that the emotions which affect purchase decisions are based on three aspects of design: "visceral" (appearance), "behavioral" (performance) and "reflective" (memories and experiences). He provides interesting case studies to show how objects evoke emotions. Norman’s central theme is that "attractive things work better." And, the book works best when he hews to that theme; the last section, where he veers into a discussion of robots, doesn’t seem as pertinent or as strong. getAbstract recommends this book to anyone who wants to understand how design affects emotions, and how emotions affect purchasing decisions.
- The items people buy have meaning beyond just owning a material object.
- Nice-looking products work better.
- Three aspects of product design - appearance, performance, and the ideas or memories the item evokes - influence consumer’s emotional reactions.
- Conscious and subconscious emotions affect people’s logic and purchasing decisions by helping them judge whether a product is good or bad.
- People who feel content and happy in a given situation are likely to think more creatively and explore more solutions than those who feel anxious or unhappy.
- The visceral, behavioral and reflective parts of the brain shape the thought processes.
- Positive emotional responses spark people’s curiosity, and abet their ability to learn and cope with stress.
- Humans automatically respond emotionally to interactions with inanimate objects.
- Technology facilitates these interactions, but it also causes disruptions.
- The best designs are created through dynamic, flexible processes.
Author Donald Norman loves his three nearly unusable teapots. Each one has an odd feature or design that draws him to it like a piece of art. He loves to show the teapots to guests and tell their stories. They are his leading examples of how objects evoke emotions and become more than just things to own. For instance, users must pour carefully from designer Michael’s Graves’ "Rooster" teapot to avoid getting scalded, but it makes Norman smile first thing in the morning. He compares himself to the owner of a BMW MINI Cooper. The car functions just like most other cars, but is so fun-looking that its owners feel pleased. As a result, MINI Cooper owners don’t let their little car’s flaws affect the pleasure they take in driving it.
“Cognitive scientists now understand that emotion is a necessary part of life, affecting how you feel, how you behave and how you think.”
Though logic - like deciding to buy something because it is practical - drives most decisions, emotions can send the brain messages that are not based on reason. Businesses rely heavily on logical decision making, but cognitive scientists believe emotions are more helpful than logic when people are making decisions. Emotions, consciously or subconsciously, signal the presence of danger, the assurance of comfort and the nature of an object, good or bad.
“Beyond the design of an object, there is a personal component as well, one that no designer or manufacturer can provide.”
Picture a plank 10 meters long and a meter wide. If you place it on the ground, most people can walk on it with relative ease. When the plank is raised three meters, many people can’t walk along it as quickly or as easily. Shoot it 100 meters up in the air, and most people won’t even try to walk on it. Their emotions warn them of the impending danger of falling. Since "the emotional system is tightly coupled with behavior, preparing the body to respond appropriately to a given situation," this is how emotions interfere with logic.
"Attractive Things Work Better"
Japanese researchers studying identical ATM machines changed the aesthetics of some of the ATMs to make them more attractive. They discovered that Japanese consumers believed that the attractive ATMs were easier to use. Thinking that the Japanese tend to appreciate things with aesthetic appeal more than other consumers, they conducted the same study in Israel. Surprisingly, an even higher percentage of Israelis found the attractive ATMs easier to use.
“We now have evidence that aesthetically pleasing objects enable you to work better.”
Three different levels of human thought affect emotion:
- "Visceral level" - The brain judges things quickly as good, bad, safe or dangerous. Humans analyze a situation and respond swiftly based on the information they have.
- "Behavior level" - The brain manages daily behavior, which becomes automatic once the skill involved (such as driving a car) is mastered.
- "Reflective level" - The brain addresses the reflective thinking processes where humans rationalize. This level evokes memories and past experiences.
“Brands are all about emotions. And emotions are all about judgment. Brands are signifiers of our emotional responses, which is why they are so important in the world of commerce.”
Consumers who enjoy using a product are more likely to forgive or overlook its flaws. But, consumers quickly come to dislike a product that’s difficult or stressful to use, because it costs more time and energy.
Humans come with programming that causes them to react automatically, whether positively or negatively, to a given condition. When theatergoers hear a fire alarm, they rush to the exit doors in a panic and push, but - if the doors require pulling, instead - they won’t open. Because it is human nature to push out when panicked, most exit doors have been redesigned for pushing. Some situations, like comfortable temperatures and harmonious sounds, evoke positive feelings. Some stimuli typically provoke negative responses. These include heights, bad tasting food, extreme temperatures and bad smells. Unlike animals, however, humans can overcome their reflective reactions to negative conditions.
How Objects Stir Memories, Feelings and Personality
Visceral design is about the appearance of a product, behavioral design focuses in the user’s enjoyment in employing the product, and reflective design relies on the user’s memories and satisfaction with the product. The visceral and behavioral levels dwell on the here and now, while reflective reactions depend on memories and experiences. No design can please everyone, since individuals respond differently. A visceral response relies on people’s preferences. For example, some people love chocolate and others easily forgo it.
“Shape and form matter. The physical feel and texture of the materials matter. Heft matters. Visceral design is all about immediate emotional impact.”
With experience, people learn what items are appropriate and not appropriate at home, at work or at a party. For instance, appropriate business products rarely look adorable. Few businesses let employees keep apparently playful objects on their desks. The Macintosh computer first attracted only a limited audience of graphic designers and schools because of its looks. Some believe the Mac’s early cute design hurt its ability to reach a wider audience because "images and psychological perceptions determine what people will buy."
“Good behavior design has to be a fundamental part of the design process from the very start; it cannot be adopted once the product has been completed.”
Consider cheap souvenirs, such as miniature replicas of famous landmarks. People buy these items because of memories associated with seeing the real landmarks. In this way, people come to regard many ordinary things as "priceless," because of the memories the items call to mind.
The Three Parts of Design
Visceral design is composed of a product’s attractiveness, colors, taste, feel and sound. Humans are born with certain natural likes and dislikes, but they can acquire new tastes, such as learning to overcome a natural aversion to coffee’s bitterness. The brain’s visceral level generates quick reactions to products, including the impulse to buy.
“Reflective design covers a lot of territory. It is all about message, about culture and about the meaning of a product or its use.”
A product’s behavior aspect is based on how it performs. Its design should combine "function, understandability, usability and physical feel." In terms of function, if a watch doesn’t tell time accurately or a peeler doesn’t peel a potato, it fails the test of meeting a need.
When buyers make purchasing decisions based on their cultural beliefs, experience, memories and messages, their choices may reveal the product’s reflective design. For instance, you may own two or more watches, which you wear based on specific demands. Your everyday watch could be bulky, with an array of features, while your formal watch might have a metal band and a sleek design.
“We are social creatures, biologically prepared to interact with others, and the nature of that interaction depends very much on our ability to understand another’s mood.”
Music, movies and video games involve all three of the brain’s levels: visceral, behavioral and reflective. Their ability to give users pleasure depends on how they balance each level - and that is the overall challenge confronting all product designers. Over time, designers find that "simple style with quality construction and effective performance still wins."
“We interpret everything we experience, much of it in human terms.”
Often, designers offer product enhancements or innovations. An enhancement makes a product better, perhaps smaller, faster or cheaper. An innovation adds a new twist. How do designers invent products people don’t even know they need? To find unmet needs, designers observe people using existing products, and then expand on them by enhancing or innovating. People don’t know they need a new item until it’s created, then they don’t know how they did without it.
Taking Pleasure in Objects
You can present information using traditional tables or you can use colorful charts. Which one gets a better reception? The fun one. Consider frequently used search engines. MSN and Yahoo!’s basic layouts look similar, but Google adds fun to its search results by adding more letter O’s to its name - Gooooooogle - based on the number of results a search returns.
“Your conceptual model of a product or service - and the feedback that you receive - is essential in establishing and maintaining trust.”
Familiar items and events don’t get as much attention as unique objects or unexpected happenings. Unfamiliar approaches grab more attention. Unfortunately, the human ability to adapt to repetition challenges designers to produce things that don’t get old. The trick is seduction. Seductive products build emotional bonds with their users by providing powerful, well-rounded and lasting experiences. However, many products fail to maintain their buyers’ interest after the first few uses. Consider the gadgets you continue to use as opposed to the forgotten ones that are collecting dust. Why do some make it and others don’t?
“Everything we think is tinged with emotion, much of it subconscious.”
Author Donald Norman once bought a gold-plated juicer, finding himself seduced by its peculiar design. Ironically, acid from lemons and oranges damages the gold plating, but its inventor supposedly remarked, "My juicer is not meant to squeeze lemons; it is meant to start conversations." A product like the juicer wins over its owners because it:
- "Entices by diverting attention" - Its shape, form and materials are distinctive.
- "Delivers surprising novelty" - Its form doesn’t immediately give away what it is.
- "Goes beyond obvious needs and expectations" - The item isn’t what people expect.
- "Creates an instinctive response" - It evokes curiosity, fear or confusion.
- "Espouses values or connections to personal goals" - It offers a memorable and different experience beyond the everyday task of juicing.
- "Promises to fulfill these goals" - It promises to turn a common task into an unusual one and to make its owner feel special for recognizing its unique qualities.
- "Leads viewers to discover something deeper about the juicing experience" - Users discover how regular things can become fascinating.
"People, Places and Things"
Human beings notice and interpret each other’s small gestures, a skill that carries over to their reactions to inanimate objects, which people treat as if they are real. An object that cooperates and behaves as users expect elicits pleasure. This makes the user feel attached to the object. But when an object defies expectations or doesn’t work, humans get frustrated or mad. For example, many computer users experience "computer rage" when their machines stop working, crash or don’t cooperate. Users "blame the computer" and take out their anger on it, although it is an inanimate object with no feelings or motivation to provoke its user. Humans react negatively to a balky machine because that’s how the mind works. Simply put, when something expected doesn’t happen, humans feel disappointed, but they respond to positive results with happiness, pride and satisfaction.
“Technology often forces us into situations where we can’t live without the technology even though we may actively dislike its impact.”
Technology affects human interaction as it creates positive or negative experiences. While a person talking on a cell phone may like the convenience, another person - say the talker’s lunch date - may see the cell as an interruption. Technology’s constantly evolving designs will continue to narrow the gap between machinery’s usefulness and its ability to disrupt. To control disruption, people must exert action, such as turning off their cell phones at lunch.
The Robotic Future
When you consider robots in light of technology’s ability to provoke joy or anger despite its mechanical lack of emotion, you evoke the world of science fiction. The robots in Star Wars don’t experience feelings, yet moviegoers respond to them with laughter and empathy. These robots’ interactions and their words, noises and movements imbue them with "personality."
“It’s surprisingly easy to get people to have an intense emotional experience with even the simplest of computer systems.”
In contrast, HAL, the computer in the film 2001, supposedly has no feelings. But, HAL shows fear when it is about to be destroyed. Why would a computer show fear? HAL senses danger and responds based on its data about the situation. Machines may not have emotions, but they contain survival mechanisms, and many keep working even when a part or two stops. For example, during power outages, many machines switch to backup power.
“We are all designers - because we must be.”
One early 1960s computer, Eliza, was programmed with scripts for interacting with users. A user would enter a question or statement, and Eliza would give a generic response. Of course, Eliza did not understand feelings, empathy or language. Instead, its programming sought patterns and provided suitable responses. If the program couldn’t find a pattern, it responded, "Please go on." Eliza’s seemingly sympathetic responses evoked emotions from its users. People naturally respond to robots in a caring way because human beings take interaction seriously and such machines are programmed to know how to "push on our buttons." Today’s more sophisticated, interactive robots can even display emotions, although they lack emotional intention. This raises serious questions about what emotional design will deliver in the future.
About the Author
Donald A. Norman, a cognitive scientist, has written many books including the popular The Design of Everyday Things. He is a consultant, a professor of computer science at Northwestern University and a frequent public speaker.