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Authors: Donald A. Norman

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It is only at the reflective level that consciousness and the highest
levels of feeling, emotions, and cognition reside. It is only here that the full impact of both thought and emotions are experienced. At the lower visceral and behavioral levels, there is only affect, but without interpretation or consciousness. Interpretation, understanding, and reasoning come from the reflective level.
Of the three levels, the reflective one is the most vulnerable to variability through culture, experience, education, and individual differences. This level can also override the others. Hence, one person's liking for otherwise distasteful or frightening visceral experiences that might repel others, or another's intellectual dismissal of designs others find attractive and appealing. Sophistication often brings with it a peculiar disdain for popular appeal, where the very aspects of a design that make it appeal to many people distress some intellectuals.
There is one other distinction among the levels: time. The visceral and behavioral levels are about “now,” your feelings and experiences while actually seeing or using the product. But the reflective level extends much longer—through reflection you remember the past and contemplate the future. Reflective design, therefore, is about long-term relations, about the feelings of satisfaction produced by owning, displaying, and using a product. A person's self-identity is located within the reflective level, and here is where the interaction between the product and your identity is important as demonstrated in pride (or shame) of ownership or use. Customer interaction and service matter at this level.
Working with the Three Levels
The ways in which the three levels interact are complex. Still, for purposes of application, it is possible to make some very useful simplifications. So, although the scientist in me protests that what I am about to say is far too simple, the practical, engineering, designer side of me says that the simplification is good enough, and, more important, useful.
The three levels can be mapped to product characteristics like this:
Visceral design
>
Appearance
Behavioral design
>
The pleasure and effectiveness of use
Reflective design
>
Self-image, personal satisfaction,
memories
Even these simplifications are difficult to apply. Should some products be primarily visceral in appeal, others behavioral, others reflective? How does one trade off the requirements at one level against those of the others? How do visceral pleasures translate into products? Won't the same things that excite one group of people dismay others? Similarly, for the reflective level, wouldn't a deep reflective component be attractive to some and bore or repel others? And, yes, we can all agree that behavioral design is important—nobody is ever against usability—but just how much in the total scheme of things? How does each of the three levels compare in importance with the others?
The answer is, of course, that no single product can hope to satisfy everyone. The designer must know the audience for whom the product is intended. Although I have described the three levels separately, any real experience involves all three: a single level is rare in practice, and if it exists at all is most likely to come from the reflective level than from the behavioral or the visceral.
Consider the visceral level of design. On the one hand, this would appear to be the easiest level to appeal to since its responses are biological and similar for everyone across the world. This does not necessarily translate directly into preferences. Furthermore, although all people have roughly the same body shape, the same number of limbs, and the same mental apparatus, in detail, they differ considerably. People are athletic or not, energetic or lazy. Personality theorists divide people along such dimensions as extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, emotional stability, and openness. To designers, this means that no single design will satisfy everyone.
In addition, there are large individual differences in the degree of a visceral response. Thus, while some people love sweets and especially chocolate (some claim to be addicts or “chocoholics”), many can ignore them, even if they like them. Almost everyone initially dislikes bitter and sour tastes, but you can learn affection for them, and they are often the components of the most expensive meals. Many foods loved by adults were intensely disliked at first taste: coffee, tea, alcoholic drinks, hot pepper, and even foods—oysters, octopus, and eyeballs—that make many people squeamish. And although the visceral system has evolved to protect the body against danger, many of our most popular and sought-after experiences involve horror and danger: horror novels and movies, death-defying rides, and thrilling, risky sports. And, as I have already mentioned, the pleasure of risk and perceived danger varies greatly among people. Such individual differences are the basic components of personality, the distinctions among people that make each of us unique.
Go outside. Get some air.
Watch a sunset.
Boy, does that get old fast.
 
 
—XBOX advertisement (Microsoft's video game player)
THE TEXT of Microsoft 's ad campaign for XBOX appeals to teens and young adults (whatever their actual age) who seek fast, exciting games with high visceral arousal, contrasting these people with those who prefer the commonly accepted norm that sunsets and fresh air are emotionally satisfying. The advertisement pits the reflective emotions of being outside and sitting quietly, enjoying the sunset against the continuous visceral and behavioral thrill of the fast-moving, engaging video game. Some people can spend hours watching sunsets. Some get bored after the first few seconds: “Been there, done that,” is the refrain.
With the large range of individual, cultural, and physical differences
among the people of the world, it is impossible for a single product to satisfy everyone. Some products are indeed marketed to everyone across the world, but they can succeed only if there are no real alternatives or if they do manage to reposition their appeal to different people through the adroit use of marketing and advertising. Hence, Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Cola manage worldwide success, in part capitalizing on a universal liking for sweet beverages, in part through sophisticated, culture-specific advertising. Personal computers are successful throughout the world because their benefits overcome their (numerous) deficiencies, and because there really is no choice. But most products have to be sensitive to the differences among people.
The only way to satisfy a wide variety of needs and preferences is to have a wide variety of products. Many product categories specialize, each catering to a different audience. Magazines are a good example. The world has tens of thousands of magazines (almost 20,000 in the United States alone). It is the rare magazine that tries to cater to everyone. Some magazines even flaunt their specialness, pointing out that they aren't for everyone, just for the people who match a particular set of interests and style.
Most product categories—home appliances, shop or gardening tools, furniture, stationery goods, automobiles—are manufactured and distributed differently across the world, with a wide variety of styles and form depending upon the needs and preferences of the market segment for whom they are targeted. Market segmentation is the marketing phrase used for this approach. Automobile companies bring out a variety of models, and different companies often emphasize different market segments. Some are for older, more sedate established people, some for the young and adventurous. Some are for those who truly need to go into the wilderness and travel through rivers and forests, up and down steep inclines, through mud, sand, and snow. Others are for those who like the reflective image of appearing to do such adventurous activities, but who will never actually do them.
Another important dimension for a product is its appropriateness to setting. In some sense, this point applies to all of human behavior:
What is appropriate and indeed preferred in one setting may be most inappropriate and rejected in another. All of us have learned to modulate our language, speaking differently when in casual interaction with our friends than when in formal presentation at a serious business meeting, or with the parents of our friends, or with our professors. Clothes that are appropriate for late-night clubs are inappropriate in business. A product that is cute and snuggly, or that conveys a humorous, playful image, is probably not appropriate for the business setting. Similarly, an industrial-style design, appropriate for the factory floor, would not be for the home kitchen or living room.
Computers sold to the home marketplace often are more powerful and have better sound systems than computers used in business. In fact, many business computers do not have some of the standard features of home machines, such as dial-out modems, sound systems, or DVD players. The reason is that these aspects of the machine are necessary for entertainment or game playing, activities not appropriate in the serious world of business. If a computer looks too attractive and playful, management may reject it. Some people feel that this hurt the sales of Apple's Macintosh computer. The Macintosh is considered a home, education, or graphics machine, not appropriate for business workers. This is an image problem because in fact, computers are pretty much the same, whether made by Apple or some other manufacturer, whether running the Macintosh or the Windows operating system, but images and psychological perceptions determine what people will buy.
The distinction between the terms
needs
and
wants
is a traditional way of describing the difference between what is truly necessary for a person's activities (needs) versus what a person asks for (wants). Needs are determined by the task: A pail is needed to carry water; some sort of carrying case is needed to transport papers back and forth to work. Wants are determined by culture, by advertising, by the way one views oneself and one's self-image. Although a student's backpack or even a paper bag would work perfectly fine for carrying papers, it might be embarrassing to carry one into a serious “power”
business meeting. Embarrassment is, of course, an emotion that reflects one's sense of the appropriateness of behavior and is really all in the mind. Product designers and marketing executives know that wants can often be more powerful than needs in determining the success of a product.
Satisfying people's true needs, including the requirements of different cultures, age groups, social and national requirements, is difficult. Now add the necessity to cater to the many wants—whims, opinions, and biases—of the people who actually purchase products, and the task becomes a major challenge. Note that many people purchase products for others, whether it be the purchasing department of a company trying to minimize cost, a parent buying for a child, or a contractor equipping a home with appliances that might enhance the sale of a house, whether or not the occupants would ever use them. To some designers, the challenge seems overwhelming. To others, it inspires.
One example of the challenge comes from the marketing of consoles for playing video games. Video game machines are clearly aimed squarely at the traditional game market: young males who love excitement and violence, who want rich graphics and sound and have quick reflexes, whether for sports or first-person shooting matches. The design of the machine reflects this image, as does the advertising: big, hefty, powerful, technical; young, virile, male. For this market, the game machines have been so wildly successful that the sales of video games exceeds the box-office sales of movies.
But although the design of these machines still seems to be targeted at young males, the actual market for video games is much broader. The average age is now around thirty, roughly as many women as men play, and the appeal is worldwide. In the United States, roughly half the population plays some sort of video game. Many of these games are no longer wild and violent. I discuss video games as a new genre of entertainment and literature in chapter 4, but here I want to focus on the fact that, despite the broader audience, the physical design of the game consoles has not been changed to meet the growing popularity. The design focus upon young, excitable males limits
the potential sales to a fraction of the possible audience, excluding not only many girls and women but also many men. This rich potential is completely untapped.
Moreover, the potential uses of video games extends far beyond the playing of games. They could be excellent teaching devices. In playing a game, you have to learn an amazing variety of skills and knowledge. You attend deeply and seriously for hours, weeks, even months. You read books and study the game thoroughly, doing active problem solving and working with other people. These are precisely the activities of an effective learner, so what marvelous learning could be experienced if only we could use this same intensity when interacting with meaningful topics. Thus, game machines have huge potential for everyone, but it has not been systematically addressed.
To break out of the traditional video game market, the industry needs to project a different kind of appeal. Here is where the three levels of design come into play. At the visceral level, the physical appearances of the consoles and controllers need to be changed. Different markets should have different designs. Some designs should reflect a warmer, more feminine approach. Some should look more serious, more professional. Some should have a more reflective appeal, especially for the educational marketplace. These changes wouldn't make the product dull and unexciting. They could make it as inviting and attractive as before, but emphasize different aspects of its potential. Its appearance should match its usage and audience.
Today, the behavioral design of many games revolves around powerful graphics and fast reflexes. Skill at operating the controls is one of the features distinguishing the beginning from the advanced player. To branch out into other arenas requires changing the behavioral characteristics so that they emphasize rich, detailed graphics and informative structures. In many domains, the emphasis should be on content, not on the skill of using the device, so ease of use should be stressed. Where content matters, the user should not have to spend time mastering the device, but rather should be able to devote time
and effort toward mastering the content, enjoying the presentations, and exploring the domain.
BOOK: Emotional Design
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