Tuesday, 1 December 2009

The Impact of Emotion on Design

Assignment 4 -

Comparing two sources, a journal and book, to show how emotion and behaviour  affects what we design, how we design and how the consumer reacts to the product.


Emotion and behaviour are fundamentally important to the designer, the design itself and the relationship between the consumer and product.  Investigating  ‘Emotional Design’ by Donald A. Norman has proven how our brain and personality affect how we design and react to it. Also a journal article ‘Emotions by Design: A Consumer Perspective’ written by Ritundra Chitturi which questions the emotions evoked in consumers when buy and use a product. Although both sources have similar attitudes to our emotional design experience, ‘Emotional Design’ provides more broad research from different sources and the journal proves good evidence and experiments to form a valid conclusion.


Donald A. Norman is a cognitive scientist and psychologist who teaches at North-western University. He has written many books on the design of products and consumers reactions including ‘The Design of Everyday Things’ and “Emotional Design’ which question two opposite concepts important to a designer – functionality and emotion.


‘Emotional Design’ is a thought-provoking book that argues everyday products work better when they look better - a good argument from someone previously known to suggest function is the true element to a good product (Norman, A, 2004). He also explores why we buy what we buy and how it affects us. Alongside Andrew Ortony and William Revelle, Norman comes up with the theory our brain has three levels which result in our actions and attitudes (pg 21). These are the visceral level which deals with our everyday experiences and emotion, the behavioural level being the way we use a product and how it works. The last is the reflective level includes the overall impression of a design. Being a valuable argument that has been scientifically proven encourages the reader to assume what Norman says to be true. This idea develops through research and example. He proves how different designs concentrate on stimulating specific parts of the brain to evoke specific emotions, for example his experiment ‘We are all Designers’ (pg. 213-218) asked people to describe their favourite design. The results were varied, some appealing to the visual (or visceral) brain which included items such as the Apollinairs mineral water bottle simply because ‘I thought it would look good on my shelves’ (Belanger, 2002).  This is enjoyable design which is used in advertising to create a visual immediate impact. If you design in this way it will always be attractive even if simple, and broadly speaking, universally accepted in all cultures. This is the difference between visceral design and reflective design which is about the meaning of a product not the aesthetic qualities it has. Reflective design is therefore different for different cultures and parts of the world. In ‘The Meaning of Things’ (Csikszentmihalyi, Rochberg-Halton, 1981) it is proven we are attached to things that have personal value which evokes strong emotion of reflection. These are objects that we may not have purchased but still mean more than money can buy despite the fact they may not be functional or even aesthetically pleasing. This advances Norman’s argument that emotion is a huge factor that influences what we buy and our relationship with our products and design companies. It has been said this relationship between human and product is the same as human to human (Fogg, 2002). In his journal ‘Persuasive Technology’, B. J. Fogg uses the example of us treating computers like humans or ‘social actors’ (Fogg, 2002), saying how we take out our anger and blame these inanimate objects. These feelings create our social interaction with our belongings which is what Norman believes to be most important to the success of a product. This is fundamentally what makes a design company succeed therefore has to be crucial not only throughout the design process but keeping this interactions alive for as long as needed.


Norman includes many evidence-based sources to prove the point of the importance of emotion to design from an unbiased perspective. He does not show sensitivity to his point as he states he only began to investigate emotional design after studying functionality of design previously, but now beginning to question that there is more. Interestingly he doesn’t state which he claims to be more important – function or emotion, so enables the reader to make his/her own opinion. This concludes his concept that emotion is a worthy goal of design.


Advancing on Norman’s understanding of emotion and design is the ideas of Ravindra Chitturi who wrote an article for the Journal of Design called ‘Emotions by Design: A Consumer Perspective’. This is good reading for design principals as it explains how different products, the usability of them and how it can evoke positive or negative emotions in the consumer. The main concepts of this article are that there are two kinds of benefit we buy for – hedonic benefits which is buying for luxury and the opposite which she calls utilitarian benefits which focuses on what we believe to be necessities or needs (Dhar and Wertenbroch, 2000) and (Okada, 2005). She goes into each in depth however does not question the point that some products are bought for both or that some are designed to appeal to both parts of our brain. Neither is there any research into products we do not buy but given as gifts or we inherit, find etc. The source is easily followed by the reader because it shows valuable research and explains clearly experiments she conducts to prove her argument.


It has been proven that customers experience negative emotions if they are ‘let down’ by their product if it fails to meet expectations (Mano and Oliver, 1993). Two studies that were conducted to prove this included a questionnaire, ‘Consumer Decision Making Questionnaire’ which looks into the emotions people feel after purchasing a product. Chitturi asked 240 students to asses the emotions they felt after the buying experience. Lookingat a product focused on creating ‘hedonic benefits’ the results showed that if the product met expectations the consumer would feel excited and delighted, but at the same time some amount of guilt was often evident. If the product failed however they would feel saddened and helpless (Frijda, 1986). This differed from the way consumers felt when they bought a utilitarian-focused product which proved evoked stronger feelings such as anger. This also lead to consumers complaining and sharing this anger with others (Chernev, 2004). These findings by Chitturi would be as it affects the way the customer will react, rate and fundamentally make or break a design company.


Chitturi argues the success of a product depends on the designers interest in what she calls the ‘prevention or promotion goals’ (Chitturi et al, 2007). Promotional goals are described as ‘looking cool’ or ‘being sophisticated’ (Higgins, 1997, 2001) and ‘prevention goals’ as ‘being responsible’.  She suggests that purchasing a product you believe you need is a ‘prevention goal’ that means if it works well it will prevent us experience negative emotion. Likewise if a product is bought as a luxury and meets expectations it will have succeeded its goal of promotion as we experience feelings of joy that we will share with others. This ultimately results in the success of a design. It also suggests that a product that concentrates on having hedonic benefits has more chance of succeeding than a utilitarian product because we are more likely to complain about a product we expect to be functional. Thus creates a negative opinion of the design through word of mouth etc. This, however, also means prevention goals are more important to the designer (Kivetz & Simonson, 2002). The affect this has on emotion and design is that what and why we buy will result in the relationship we have with the product itself. ‘Why We Buy’ by Palo Underhill goes further into this idea which I intend to research.


Although the paper is not very broad, for example looking into culture or specific peoples needs, it makes good research into emotional consumerism towards design as it has critical evidence from a series of psychologists and designers and provides interesting findings proving the argument Chitturi is putting across proving emotion and cognitive behaviour should be crucial when designers begin the design process and throughout to keep good customer loyalty which fundamentally a successful design.

Both ‘Emotions by Design: A Consumer Perspective’ and ‘Emotional Design’ provide similar arguments into the importance on emotions and it’s relationship with design. Chitturi however, focuses on in-depth research into specific consumer relations with their product whereas Norman speaks more broadly of product design in general, not just the way we buy. The sources agree that trust between consumer and product is essential as it is creates the interaction which evokes strong emotion. Both use the example of the design of a car and how we expect security such as airbags and locking systems, and if we are not supplied with these ‘necessities’ we feel angry and let down. Norman goes into this further than Chitturi, talking about the things we wantrather than need in aspects of car design too. He uses the example of a cup holder which was created as a prototype that proved successful. This quirky idea then exploded into the whole car industry. Now it has become what Chitturi would call a utilitarian benefit or a need. This, I suppose, is how something changes from a luxury to an expectation. If Chitturi had gone further into the design development this may have created intriguing avenues to explore. I intend to research into this by looking into the relationship between function and emotion in Norman’s book ‘The Design of Everyday Objects’. Another book that will enable me to do this is ‘Design and Emotion Moves’ which looks into the behavioural and emotional patterns of consumers and how it affects buying and owning products.


Another similarity is that the sources agree at our frustration when something that is meant to be functional doesn’t work and we blame the product itself, not the designer (Reeves & Nass, 1996). The journal article goes further by explaining the types of emotion we feel and express, which can often result in complaints and negative word of mouth epidemics. These are all contributing factors to why the consumer buys certain products weather it be for the attractiveness or the functionality or simply because it reminds you of something. Both sources by Norman and Chitturi bounce off one another with similar developing ideas and valid research to come to the conclusion that for whatever reason, emotion is vital to the design process and the relationship it develops with the consumer.



Chitturi, R. (2009). “Emotion and Design: A Consumer Perspective”, International Journal of Design, 3(2), 7-17.

Desmet, P, Van Erp, J, Karlsson, M. (2008). Design and Emotion Moves, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.


Graying, A. C. (2002). The Meaning of Things, Pheonix: New Ed edition


Fogg, P. J. (2009). “The New Rules of Perusasion”. RSA Journal, 155 (5538), 24-29


Norman, D. (2002). Design of Everyday Things, New York: Basic Books


Norman, D. (2004). Emotional Design, New York: Basic Books.


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