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By Teresa Di Cairano

Twitter: @TeresaDiCairano

At a shopping excursion with my then fifteen-year-old fashionista daughter, she not only pronounced her unending love for a pair of Jeffrey Campbell shoes but finally declared “I want to marry these shoes!”
. I probably spend too much time trying to persuade my busy customers that they really should separate themselves from their money. While, we know design matters for creating innovative offerings people want to buy, I wonder what it is that makes us love the design of some products and services more than others?

Emotional design, both a concept and book by Donald Norman, provides some insight into this notion. Norman is an academic and consultant in the field of cognitive science, design and usability engineering. Much of his initial book The Design of Everyday Things focused on the concept of user-centered design. This was a sort of natural segue to the form-follows-function design philosophy that came out of the Bauhaus. Along with human factors, ergonomics and other related concepts, we certainly were on track to better-liked and more user-friendly designs.

But love? Hmmm, maybe we need another framework for that kind of design. It turns out, not surprisingly so, that emotions play a crucial role in our understanding of the world and how we learn new things. As Norman notes in his book, Emotional Design, aesthetically pleasing objects appear to the user to be more effective.

Do attractive things really work better?

“In the early ‘90s two Japanese researchers, Masaaki Kurosu and Kaori Kashimura, claimed just that. They studied different layout controls for ATMs. All versions of the ATMs were identical in function, the number of buttons, and how they operated, but some had buttons and screens arranged attractively, the others unattractively. Surprise! The Japanese (research subjects) found that the attractive ones were perceived to be easier to use.”

Norman’s studies on emotion, along with colleagues Andrew Ortony and William Revelle, professors in the Psychology Department at Northwestern University, led to some insight on affective processing.

They suggest in fact three levels of processing by the brain: visceral, behavioral and reflective. The visceral level is fast and makes rapid judgments of what is good or bad. It relies on sensory input and is the start of affective processing.  The part of the brain that controls everyday behavior is known as behavioral level and the contemplative part of the brain is the reflective level.

How do these three levels impact different aspects of design? Norman offers an admittedly simple but ‘good-enough’ way to incorporate these levels into design:

How levels impact design:
Visceral design >> Appearance
Behavioral design >> The pleasure and effectiveness of use
Reflective design >> Self-image, personal satisfaction and memories

The relative importance of each of these will also of course vary from person to person and from culture to culture. But they do provide a way to design and interpret objects in a more meaningful way.

Here are a few designs I fell in love with - and well, yes - may have spent more money than needed.

Almost any product from Alessi is a good example of operating on several levels.  Originally a metal craft factory from Northern Italy, Alessi keeps no designers on staff but commissions well-known architects and designers to turn their everyday kitchen accessories into whimsical, functional and attractive objects.


The Anna G. corkscrew, by Alessandro Mendini for Alessi, works smoothly and sits beautifully in my kitchen – and seemingly from her smile, getting on well with the bottles of wine with which she shares the shelf. It gets high points for both visceral and behavioral aspects. The toaster, also by Mendini, has a streamline influence of the early 1920’s and 30’s and what futurist doesn’t want to start their day with a (retro) modern feel.

Another favorite of mine is the Louis Ghost chair designed by Philippe Stark for Kartell.

A humorous take on the ‘emperor has no clothes’ to the ‘emperor has no throne.’ Here the reflective and intellectual aspects of doing away with the stuffiness of bourgeois seating, with a modern transparent polycarbonate chair, are brought forward.  I don’t know how comfortable these chairs are for long periods of sitting, but they do have one additional functional benefit – they add very little weight to small spaces.

People will talk about interesting designs."

Another characteristic of design that operates on many levels is the kind of conversation it strikes. People will talk about interesting designs.

What design objects do you love?

And if you are creating new products or services this year, what can you incorporate into your design to make everyday experiences - like banking, using a software application, or doing laundry for that matter - something people will love and want to talk about?

email your comments to: teresa@intervista-institute.com


Jeffrey Campbell because if you are anywhere near my age, you might not have heard of him: http://www.jeffreycampbellshoes.com/collections/
The Design of Everyday Things, Donald A. Norman, 2002
Emotional Design, Donald A. Norman, 2004
Emotional Design Attractive things work better (chapter one)
Alessi history/production - http://www.alessi.com/en/company/production
Anna G. Corkscrew: http://www.alessi.com/en/2/3354/bar-and-wines/aam01-r-anna-g-corkscrew
Alessi/Phillips Toaster: http://vdm.io.tudelft.nl/fda/mendini/mendin95.htm
Phillipe Starck - http://www.starck.com/en/
Louis Ghost Chair: http://www.dwr.com/product/louis-ghost-armchair.do?sortby=ourPicks
Louis Ghost Chairs: http://www.housetohome.co.uk/dining-room/picture/eclectic-dining-room

© 2015 Intervista Inc.

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