Semrush Hero Banner

Don Norman and the Emotional Side of Design

Don Norman and the Emotional Side of Design

Design has always gone beyond pure functionality. The emotional experience of using a product can be just as necessary. In the late 1990s, design researcher Don Norman highlighted this critical insight by coining the influential concept of “emotional design.”

Over two decades later, emotional design remains integral to creating products and experiences that truly resonate with users. This article will explore what emotional design means, why it matters, fundamental principles, and how it applies today.

The Core Idea Behind Emotional Design

What is Emotional Design?

Emotional Marketing Strategies That Work

Emotional design considers how a product makes users feel on a gut, instinctual level. It focuses on the emotional side of the human-product interaction.

As Don Norman explains in his seminal 2003 book Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, emotional design has three key levels:

  • Visceral – The initial emotional impact and first impressions of a product's look, feel, sound, weight, etc. This level triggers basic human instincts and intuitions.
  • Behavioural – How intuitive, fluid and straightforward a product's functionality is. The behavioural level is all about usability.
  • Reflective – The thoughts and feelings that emerge after we use a product over time. This level encompasses personal memories, self-image, and deeper meaning.

Emotional design considers all three levels holistically to craft experiences that resonate on multiple fronts. Norman writes, “Emotion is in everything we do… our emotional side supports rational thought and underlies our taste, aesthetics, and much of our social behaviour.”

Sale
Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things
  • Norman, Don A. (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 272 Pages – 05/11/2005 (Publication Date) – Basic Books (Publisher)

Why Does Emotional Design Matter?

Many have wondered – can't we focus purely on function and analytics? Why does “fluffy stuff” like emotion even matter in design?

Well, here are three compelling reasons:

1 – Emotion Drives Decisions

Our emotions and intuitions influence all decisions, from which products to buy to who to trust as a leader.

In recent decades, behavioural economics research has shown that most human decisions do not result from pure logic and rational thinking. Daniel Kahneman's landmark studies led to him receiving the 2002 Nobel Prize.

πŸ‘‰ Further Reading:  The Importance of Authenticity in Branding

Our emotions guide us at least as much, if not more, than facts and figures do.

As such, making users feel good through emotional design increases sales, loyalty, and engagement.

2 – Emotion Creates Memories

Well-designed emotional experiences also create strong memories and associations in our brains.

Brain scan research has revealed how emotion-laden events create substantially more activity across the brain's hippocampus and amygdala. These regions are responsible for emotional processing and memory formation.

Products that evoke emotion – whether delight, surprise, anger or another visceral reaction – etch themselves into our minds. We are likely to remember them for years afterwards.

3 – Emotion Leads To Trust

Finally, making customers and users feel understood on an emotional level builds rapport and trust.

Design that lacks empathy or feels impersonal leads to distrust and scepticism. However, emotional design that genuinely appeals to users' core needs and desires earns loyalty that transcends mere functionality.

As Don Norman highlights, emotional design shows, “You care about me, you understand who I am, you understand why I do things, you are not out to fool me.” This builds a vital foundation for long-term relationships in both consumer and professional contexts.

Ultimately, as human beings, we are wired to connect emotionally first and foremost. Emotional design taps into this essential reality.

Critical Principles of Emotional Design

Emotional Advertising Examples

Focus On The Entire User Experience

Emotional design requires expanding beyond isolated features to consider the overall user experience.

How do users feel when navigating from their first exposure to becoming a repeat, loyal customer? Every touchpoint along that journey shapes emotional perceptions.

Minor gaps that may seem trivial in isolation can add to a disjointed experience. For example, friendly advertising paired with an intimidating onboarding process breeds distrust.

Emotional design means crafting cohesive experiences where interactions reinforce – not undermine – each other.

Design For All Senses

While visual design garners the most attention, effective emotional design engages multiple senses:

  • Vision – Color schemes, typography, imagery
  • Hearing – Alert sounds, UI feedback tones
  • Touch – Texture, ergonomics
  • Smell & Taste – Rarer, but still relevant in some contexts

When aligned to the same emotional tone, the more sensory channels are ignited, the higher the visceral and behavioural impact.

Given expanded neurological activity, multi-sensory experiences also get encoded more strongly in memory.

Move Users Along The Progress Arc

Humans instinctively seek progress and growth. Products that facilitate this innate drive will spark more robust emotional engagement.

Software expert Kathy Sierra articulated this through the “progress arc” – enabling your users to go from:

1. Novice β†’ 2. Advanced beginner β†’ 3. Competent practitioner β†’ 4. Expert/ evangelist

Features should not just work flawlessly but feel empowered by moving people along this arc.

Moments of delight emerge from new abilities unlocked during a user's journey. These moments reinforce that your product facilitates their progress.

Align Emotions To Brand Purpose

Emotional design should also reinforce – not distract from – your brand's core mission and values.

While isolated gimmicks may amuse briefly, only authentic connections between design choices and brand purpose will be sustained. For example, TOMS Shoes sparks emotional solidarity by giving away a pair of shoes for everyone who sells them.

πŸ‘‰ Further Reading:  Herb Lubalin: Life and Legacy of the Graphic Designer

Without underlying authenticity, attempts at emotional design will backfire as hollow and manipulative over the long run.

Key Examples of Emotional Design

Early Apple iMacs

Don Norman Emotional Design Imac Example

The iMac revolutionised home computing in the late 1990s not just through technology but even more so through emotional design focused on simplicity, fun and approachability.

The playful, inviting aesthetics signalled a radical break from the then-standard vision of computers as cold work machines. Vibrant Bondi Blue plastic and bubbly CRT displays welcomed new users who might have felt intimidated by computers otherwise.

On a reflective level, the cheery, toy-like iMac allowed customers to redefine their self-image from geeky to approachable proudly. This extended to include a comfortable carrying handle, implying mobility over work desks.

Fifteen years later, emotional design remains core to Apple, contributing to its ongoing customer loyalty and premium brand status.

The OXO Good Grips Kitchen Range

The OXO Good Grips range transformed mundane kitchen equipment into enjoyable products eliciting delight.

The breakthrough insight originated from OXO founder Sam Farber observing his wife struggling with a traditional hard-to-squeeze peeler due to her arthritis. However, his wisdom went beyond pure ergonomic fine-tuning for special populations.

The enhanced chunky handles, the satisfying sounds of silicone skin popping onto stainless steel, and visually striking shapes elevated tools that had been afterthoughts into objects users wanted to hold and display. Good Grips products delight across Norman's three levels:

  • Visceral – Tactile, expressive aesthetics
  • Behavioural – Improved grip and control
  • Reflective – Valuing accessibility and universal design historically ignored in kitchenware

Like Apple, OXO won mass appeal and acclaim through empathising with users' emotional realities – not just surface-level functionality.

Mailchimp Email Marketing Platform

Microcopy Examples Mailchimp

Another stirring example comes from the Mailchimp marketing platform. Although dry functionality focuses on emails, drip campaigns, and data analytics, Mailchimp has a playful personality.

The floppy-fringed simian mascot Freddie von Chimpenheimer III regularly graces notifications with situations like losing his head or battling Godzilla to cheer users up.

Such moments boost engagement in tedious data tasks by sparking surprise and amusement. Mailchimp co-founder Dan Kurzius traces this quirky spirit back to graffiti art, zines and stickers from punk rock shows while growing up.

Proper emotional design draws from authentic cultural and personal passions rather than solely focus group data. Despite seeming unprofessional to some, Mailchimp's humour accelerates growth to $700 million in annual revenue, proving naysayers wrong.

Current Opportunities For Emotional Design

While emotional design already drives various industries, ample potential remains to explore, including:

Voice Assistants and AI Interactions

Smart assistants like Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant still often feel transactional and robotic despite advanced natural language processing. The next frontier will involve elevating them as relatable companions through emotional design.

What is the personality and backstory underlying each AI assistant? How might they appropriately exhibit empathy, humour, concern, and other emotions based on context and culture? What types of relationships and new use cases might emerge from more emotional AI?

Data Analytics Platforms

Conversely, data analytics and business intelligence dashboards often burden users with information overload. Processing endless reports and figures feels data-driven yet emotionally uninspiring.

πŸ‘‰ Further Reading:  How to Write a Graphic Design Brief: 5 Must-Have Elements

Applying emotional design to data visualisation and exploration offers untapped potential for making sensemaking feel viscerally engaging. Abstract information could map to intuitive spatial metaphors. Filtering data could prove delightfully tactile based on physical gestures. And uncovering insights may promote a sense of mystery and accomplishment when framed appropriately.

The next wave of business tools must move “from functional to fun,” as Don Norman urges regarding the original Apple iPod and other pioneers.

Healthcare Technology

Improving both doctor-patient relationships and supporting overall well-being also stands ripe for innovation through emotional design. Healthcare is historically fixated on pure clinical outcomes and productivity with little emphasis on experiences.

However, medical environments loaded with anxiety require empathy and assurance. Norma's three-tier model offers guidance across hospital spaces, wearable monitors, telehealth platforms, assistive tools and more. Physical spaces, personalised interfaces and thoughtful communication that reassures visceral, behavioural and reflective levels still need to be improved.

Conclusion: Lasting Value From Good Feelings

While emotional design principles seem fluffy compared to technical specs or revenue metrics, their impact persists over decades, as the examples in this article illustrate.

People forget functional details over time. But how products made them feel at critical moments imprinted onto fond memories and personal identities. Competitors continually emulate or improve baseline features in a never-ending arms race.

However, skillfully crafted emotional experiences differentiate brands on a deeper level that pure engineering struggles to replicate, especially at lower price points. Hitting the right emotional notes also unlocks usage scenarios beyond what any feature checklist could envision.

Ultimately, making people smile, feel understood and enabled is a reward alongside commercial benefits – it signifies improving lives at some level rather than solely optimisation and profits.

Frequently Asked Questions About Emotional Design from Don Norman

Is emotional design just about being trendy or eye-catching visually?

Not at all. The authentic emotional design stems from empathy around unmet user needs – not superficial styling like rounded corners or playful colours devoid of purpose. Aesthetic appeal lacking meaningful functionality proves shallow over time.

How much does emotional design increase development and production costs?

While accounting precisely for emotional design costs proves tricky, effective strategies need not require splurging substantially more on engineering or materials. If rooted in empathy, simplicity, warmth, and character can shine through regardless of budget. However, seamlessly aligning business purposes rather than tacking on gimmicks does involve upfront consulting and planning.

Can emotional design apply to practical products and B2B scenarios – not just consumer experiences?

Absolutely. While B2C examples often come to mind first, professionals also appreciate moments of humour, empowerment or aesthetic warmth amid stressful work. The same principles around visceral, behavioural, reflective UX and brand authenticity apply equally, if not more crucially, in B2B when building partner trust and loyalty.

Is there any rigorous way to measure emotional design success beyond anecdotal feedback?

Traditional usability heuristics help quantify basics like learnability or error rates. Standardised user surveys like AttrakDiff and Self-Assessment Manikin provide some guidance on perceived warmth, novelty and other high-level traits for emotional factors. However, focus groups and ethnographic observation offer the richest data for capturing personal connections and defying questionnaires. Holistic emotional design requires mixing quantitative metrics with open-ended human narratives to understand effectiveness fully.

πŸ‘‰ Further Reading:  The Dynamic Evolution of the Reebok Logo Design

What academic programs or outlets best showcase the latest emotional design innovations?

While traditional industrial design and HCI fields incorporate emotional principles, seeking emerging voices expands perspectives. Top outlets include the International Journal of Design's Design & Emotion section, Design Research Society's Emotion & Design interest group, taxpayers, and social impact programs at institutions like Stanford School and Columbia Business School. Diversity of scholars and communities enriches innovation.

Last update on 2024-04-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Photo of author

Stuart Crawford

Stuart Crawford is an award-winning creative director and brand strategist with over 15 years of experience building memorable and influential brands. As Creative Director at Inkbot Design, a leading branding agency, Stuart oversees all creative projects and ensures each client receives a customised brand strategy and visual identity.

Need help Building your Brand?

Let’s talk about your logo, branding or web development project today! Get in touch for a free quote.

Leave a Comment

Trusted by Businesses Worldwide to Create Impactful and Memorable Brands

At Inkbot Design, we understand the importance of brand identity in today's competitive marketplace. With our team of experienced designers and marketing professionals, we are dedicated to creating custom solutions that elevate your brand and leave a lasting impression on your target audience.