Response: “Emotional Design: Attractive Things Work Better”

In this chapter, Norman begins with an interesting anecdote about a study surrounding “attractive” ATM design by two Japanese researchers, and how people perceived attractively designed ATMs to be easier to use, even though they shared the same functions and buttons as some other, less attractive ATMs. Tracktinsy applied the same experiment to Israelis, thinking that “aesthetic preferences are culturally dependent”, and that the results stemming from Japanese culture would not apply to his experiment on Israelis. However, he was proved wrong and came to find that usability and aesthetics do correlate, contrary to his previous belief- and that to a large extent, they do so on a biological level, rather than a distinct cultural level.

Why do usability and aesthetics correlate, on a seemingly universal level?

Humans possess three levels of processing: visceral, behavioral and reflective. Each of these levels affect our interactions with design, objects and the environment. People are very similar at the visceral level, but it is at the behavioral and reflective levels that people differ and act differently. For one, we are genetically predisposed to have positive experiences with such things as smooth, symmetrical objects or “attractive” people or sensuous feelings, sounds and shapes (pp. 29). These “experiences” have been accumulated due to our evolutionary history, but humans also possess highly reflective abilities that enable us to, in a way, overwrite these biological histories.  Norman suggests that, in design, we need to cater to each of these three levels individually- but this also poses the question:  “How do each of the three levels compare in importance with the others?”. Norman proposes multiple solutions for this, but the solution I agree with the most is, satisfying the largest amount of needs by having a wide variety of products. An example of this which is mentioned in the chapter is magazines. No one tries to produce a magazine that caters to everyone, because it defies the point. Each magazine is special in its style, delivery, and audience.

So, coming back to the question of usability and aesthetics. Pleasurable aesthetics increase the usability of objects, on all three processing levels. Attractive objects trigger positive emotions, which in return enable our mental creativity and make us more tolerant of errors or difficulties in their design.

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