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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.
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on February 18, 2004
This is a very good book about the many levels of design. Often, you can get something that works well, but is ugly; conversely, you can get something that looks great but doesn't really work. The great service of this book is that Prof. Norman creates a useful framework to categorise and analyse these things. It is thoughtful, often funny, and in my experience covers the field accurately and concisely.
First, according to Norman, there is the behavioral level, that is, how the thing functions. This is how many people, in particular Americans, approach the objects that they buy: if it works and is durable yet not expensive, it is a good deal. Second, there is the visceral level, which is the (perhaps innate and genetically programmed) reaction that a buyer had to the appearence of something bought. It is about beauty, the appearence of safety, and the like. Third, there is the reflective level, which includes the personal associations of the consumer as well as the intended subtexts that a designer might attempt to incorporate. THe latter two are more favored by the design-loving cultural elites in continental Europe, and they are prepared to pay a lot for them as well as discard still-usable goods for the latest fashion. It is an entirely different mentality and linked to personal pleasure and a sense of emotional satisfaction that come from these objects, which blur the line of design and art.
While all products reflect these three levels, more often than not one is favored by any given firm in the product design process. Target goes for level one with its cheap and useful products, but with Graves' and Starck's designer goods is attempting to appraoch the other levels. With its ironic and - let's admit it - obscure products of the Droog design Collective, the reflective level is favored; for example, its very ugly "dresser" (actually separate drawers lashed together with heavy straps by the consumer) is supposed to remind us of moving and even nomadic life. While I enjoy the idea of these Droog subtexts, I would never want to have one in my house. In contrast, Alessi combines beauty and reflection in some of the best household objects currently manufactured, but they don't always work well; for example, the Starck lemon juicer is beautiful and evokes almost a haunting feeling in some, but you can't really juice lemons with it; or take the (functionally more successful) Mami pots series: they are gently curved, evoking the clay pots of the Italian grandmother's hearth (or even a breast) and yet are simply beautiful. You can't do much better than this in terms of quick analysis with a clear framework. There are also some flashes of humor in the book, which helps it to move along.
Nonetheless, there are many long sections where Norman goes off on tangents that I found uninteresting. Sure, he speculates on innumerable product design possibilities, which may or may not interest (many of them felt like filler to me). But what really bored me was the academic tone of the book, which skims along psych research and in particular cognitive psych. While is makes it more academic, in my opinion it addes nothing to the design insights in the book, which was why I for one bought it.
Many of the reviewers here were hard on Norman for his last two chapters on robotics and artificial intelligence in computers. These are not my field, but I think that his choice to include them is legitimate in that both areas will certainly become a frontier of design in the near future. I got some useful opinions out of it in that I thought about how frustrating computers are and how they could be better.
Recommended with these caveats in mind. I learned a lot from this book.
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on February 10, 2004
As I get older, I begin to see that designing is really about seeing, hearing, thinking and understanding at a higher level. If you're looking for an easy how-to for making your website or product punchier, this isn't for you. For me, the book was a perfect read. I am always hunting and gathering for the meaning of art and design, to push my own work forward, and to gain an advantage over my competitors in terms of design. Thus, Norman's book was right up my alley. His deconstruction of design into its visceral, behavioral and reflective aspects was powerful and compelling, and I believe this book is actually a manifesto that will eventually launch a new school of thought in design. The second half of the book delves into even more complex and forward-thinking issues, and I found it useful for FORCING myself to read and think out of the box. It's an absolute must-have book for anyone interested in understanding the structure of the new design revolution and transforming their perspective on the art of designing at an emotional level.
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on March 28, 2004
I'm a huge fan of Donald A. Norman, and I'm working on reading every book he ever wrote. I'm now getting down to the very old and obscure ones like "Attention and Memory" (1968!). This new book combines the ideas of his previous work with some fascinating new psychological knowledge, so it is definitely worthwhile.
One thing that makes Norman such a good author is that he gives very graphic analogies to explain his ideas. One sentence that really made me think was that if robots had no idea whether something was safe or not, they could possibly just sit there, afraid to do anything - he likens this to confidence in humans. So it seems like thinking about how robots should work can only help figure out more about humans. That's why I think his new work on robotics adds yet another useful dimension to the work of a man whose focus has been a great blend of academia and business. Now he is tying more and more of those ideas together, blending them with collaboration and new research, so I hope he stays a prolific writer.
Unfortunately I was not everwhelmed by the book, but it is all very sensible and useful. I wish he had gotten more into the passion we feel when something is just superb. I have had that feeling when reading many similar books, like "The Tipping Point", "Don't Make Me Think", and even Norman's own "The Design of Everyday Things". So come to think of it, maybe writing one of those great books plus many other very good books is plenty to ask of a human being.
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on January 28, 2004
In this book as with his earlier works, The Design of Everyday Things and The Invisible Computer, Donald Norman describes a new and insightful perspective on design. In Emotional Design we consider three levels of design - visceral, behavioral, and reflective. Visceral design works on the immediate level of our senses - enjoying the texture of a material or being impressed by the look of a cherry red sportscar. Behavioral design was the focus of his book The Design of Everyday Things - does the thing perform its function well and is it easy to use? Reflective design is about the meaning of the thing - does it express wealth or cool or is it fun to use?
There are many great examples that explore these dimensions. Philippe Starck's juicer, shown on the book's cover, succeeds with all three facets: it is visually striking and novel, works well as a juicer, and becomes an elegant, sophisticated conversation-starter. Or consider a purely reflective case: an espresso machine that isn't very attractive or easy to use but in skilled hands can brew excellent coffee.
Norman spends the last quarter of the book considering some applications of his new approach to design. The examples here are all robots. Unfortunately I had a difficult time relating to these examples and found them too theoretical and more like curiosities.
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on May 13, 2004
I love Donald Norman. I love the work he does, and I love what he's taught me. I got so much from The Design of Everyday Things. I got something out of Things That Make Us Smart. I didn't get much out of this one at all.
I think this is because I'm an impatient reader. For example, I don't read fiction. I want to read facts about things I can apply in a practical way. This book is much more about theory than practical applications.
I'm sure some people love reading theory, and they will love this book. But if you're like me and really want a book to deliver information you can use on every page, you should buy The Design of Everyday Things instead, if you haven't already.
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on February 5, 2004
I agree with some of the other reviews. The first half of the book is pretty informative about the visceral, behavioral and reflective aspects of design. However, once the author started going into robotics, I began to lose interest. The topic of emotions and robots seems completely out of place in a book like this in our current time (a scientific journal might be a better home for this type of info). It would have been nice if he would have given examples of how to apply his ideas to today's products and interfaces rather than tomorrow's robots.
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on February 14, 2011
I had been looking forward to this read for a long time, but was very disappointed. The book has very little in the way of examples or real world study. It is mostly a collection of direct quotes, random factoids, repetition of the same few thoughts, and the opinions and speculations of the author.

I will admit I read less than half of the book, but I stopped reading it when I realized that I had not learned or remembered a single useful thing in that first half.
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on January 20, 2004
I looked forward to receiving this book after reading an excerpt. I was partially disappointed. The first half of the book showing why good aesthetics is important was great. The second half dealing with the incorporation of emotions into robots was disappointing. Buy the book for the first half. Also buy Postrel's book on the Substance of Style.
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on April 12, 2014
Its was a super deal and the product look fine. A bunch of year then im looking for this book. Thanks a lot!
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