Response to Norman’s “Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better”

I must admit that prior to reading Norman’s chapter, I was thinking of attractiveness of design as a bonus – something that makes some people feel more comfortable using it, but never as something that has direct biological ties. That beautiful design is perceived to be easier to use (almost like a placebo effect – which is still a valuable one) rather than to actually be easier to use. Therefore, to me, it was quite eye-opening to read Norman’s scientific reasoning (communicated in a very simple and approachable way) on why, from evolutionary perspective, making people feel good and relaxed or stressed and tense has an effect on how they use and experience the product. And in result, how it shapes the usability of the product itself.

Yet it all sounded a way too good, a way too simple and I got very skeptical. As if there was a general pattern based on the way all of our brains are wired to follow when designing. Then Norman saved it a little and added crucial points about how some of these mechanisms are “predispositions rather than full-pledges systems” and “one person’s acceptance is another one’s rejection.” And though the points on visceral, behavioural, reflective experience introduce a new, more strategic and thoughtful way of designing not only the product but the experience with it as well, the conclusion is left very open.

To me, it raised many more questions: if there is a clash, is it the fault of the product or of the individual using it? Where is the line and what is the extent to which the designer is supposed to predict one’s affect and adjust the final product to it? Is it even possible to do it? And while Norman’s chapter offered really great points and fresh perspective for consideration, it feels like another extra kilo was added to the burden that designers carry. Norman introduced more factors (though very crucial ones) to consider, which make a designer’s job even more impossible than it was before because humans are diverse and confusing.

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