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Great Ideas on Product Design
on May 1, 2004
People have needs, and products exist to fulfill those needs. People have a need for food, shelter, transportation and personal organization. Products like houses, cars and PDAs exist to fulfill these needs. It should go without saying that some needs are more important than others.
Don Norman has spent much of his life advocating for one of the fundamental needs that engineers often overlook: useability. This is human-centric or behavioral design.
In Emotional Design, Don Norman introduces the reader to the psychological underpinnings for this fundamental need, and finds that there are two other fundamental needs, too. These needs stem from the reflective, behavioral and visceral levels of cognition and affect. The visceral level is immediate and direct, reacting to the look, color or sound of a product and feeding in to the behavioral level. The behavioral level is concerned with how products function, and feeds in to and is affected by the reflective level. The reflective level is where we make value judgments, think about things, and where memory impacts our experiences.
As Norman states, people react to--and interact with--everything and everyone at all three levels; it's a basic fact of our psyche. Behavioral design, for which Norman has been an advocate for decades, works primarily at only the behavioral level. To make products that work even better, Norman argues that products must fully address people's (largely unspoken) needs at all three levels.
This isn't the same as "seeing people as needy, weak and emotionally dependent," as one reviewer claimed. Far from it: just as good behavioral design results in better communication with the user, Norman's intent with Emotional Design is that communication be further improved, and that it become a two-way street.
The value of this, as he shows in the beginning of the book, is that products work better when they interact with the user on the reflective and visceral levels in addition to the behavioral level.