Brief review of Emotional Design. Donald Norman uses this book to expand a bit on the well-known The Design of Everyday Things. In particular, the new book discusses some of the non-rational aspects of design that the previous book ignores. But right from the beginning the author cautions that

In the long run, simple style with quality construction and efficient performance wins. So a business that [creates] web sites for shipping, commerce, or information, would be wise to stick to the fundamentals. […] Only for products whose goal is “entertainment, or style, or perhaps enhancement of a personal image” does fashion come into play. The design moust match the target audience and “it is probably necessary to have multiple versions of the design for different market segments” and “rapid changes in style and appearance” are required.

Three levels of design are distinguished:

  1. visceral
  2. behavorial
  3. reflective

Visceral design:

People are often willing to overlook shortcomings if a product is pleasant to use.

The visceral level is the “look and feel” that makes people want to own your product, regardless of whether they need it or not.

Behavorial design:

At the behavorial level “appearance doesn’t really matter […] performance does”. Design at this level means talking into consideration not only function, but also understandability and usability.

First, it is important to recognize that

tasks and activities are not well supported by isolated features

so check-list based development won’t do – you need to understand just how people will use a product.

There are two kinds of product development: evolution and innovation.

Asking potential customers for their views is not an effective way to innovate:

Focus groups, questionnaires, and surveys are poor tools for learning about behavior, for they are divorced from actual use. Most behavior is subconcious and what people actually do can be quite different from what they think they do. We humans like to think that we know why we act as we do, but we don’t, however much we like to explain our actions.

People have said they would really like some products that have failed in the marketplace. Similarly, they have said they were simply not interested in products that went on to become huge market successes.

Evolutionary development, too, is best done by watching people, as “people find it difficult to articulate their real problems”. Also, many people blame themselves for problems they have.

Regarding usability:

[The product] should not require years of dedicated practice. New items appear every week, but who has time or energy to spend the time required to learn each one? Bad design is a frequent cause of error, often unfairly blamed on users

designing for the handicapped, the hard of hearing or seeing, or those less agile than average invariably makes an object better for everyone.

Why do so many designs fail?

  • Engineers tend to focus upon technology, putting into a product whatever special features they themselves prefer.
  • Designers like to make sophisticated use of images and metaphers that win prizes in design compititions but create products that inaccessible to users.
  • Managers focus upon making sure that each division in a company receives the recognition its political power deserves.

Good behavorial 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.

Therefore it is

important to have a rapid, iterative development process. The prototype is tested with users right from the beginning.

Reflective design:

This is a more subtle level of design that not all people may be able to appreciate – much like good movies…

The best designs come from following a cohesive theme throughout, with a clear vision and focus. Usually, such designs are driven by the vision of one person.

If you want a successful product, test and revise. If you want a great product, one that can change the world, let it be done by someone with a clear vision. The latter presents more financial risk, but it is the only path to greatness.

Another issue is customization, which the author invariably fails to find useful:

The things I really want to customize […] can’t be customized. […]

If something is so complex that it requires the addition of multiple “preferences” it is probably too complex to use.

Proper customization comes through combining multiple simple pieces. I don’t customize my pen; I do customize how I use it.