Emotional Design

Emotional Design

Donald Norman’s Emotional Design was next on the Research reading list.

Norman, a Cognitive Scientist, believes that Emotion is a key tool that all designers can use to create “better” products.

“Advances in our understanding of emotion and affect have implications for the science of design.”

Norman’s key proposition is that:

“Products designed for more relaxed, pleasant occasions can enhance their usability through pleasant, aesthetic design. Aesthetics matter: attractive things work better.”

Norman further speaks to the importance of Aesthetics and their ability to facilitate an emotional response and encourage relationships with their owners:

“…we now have evidence that pleasing things work better, are easier to learn, and produce a more harmonious result.”

When speaking about how Emotional attachments occur (pp31), Norman discusses that humans are born with what he calls components.  These components, like the human brain, come ready to be imprinted onto.  In the case of the brain, they are prepared for a language to be imprinted.

“Children do not come into the world with language, but they do come predisposed and ready, that is the biological part. But the particular language you learn and the accent with which you speak it, are determined through experience.”

This is comparable to how a user chooses a product and projects their perspectives and views of the world onto it.

When speaking on the topic of Personalisation (pp225) in his chapter entitled “We Are All Designers“, Norman asks the question how can mass-produced items have a personal meaning.  He argues that we make our living space personal by:

“… the choice of items we place in them, how we arrange them, and how they are used.”

Norman also discusses the importance of the lifecycle of an object  (pp221).  There he discusses the affect and impact of the wear-and-tear that occurs to items.  He believes this adds “personal history and charm”, for their owner.  However, he proposes the following design rule to achieve this:

“The trick is to make objects that degrade gracefully, growing old along with their owners in a personal and pleasurable manner.  And this kind of Personalisation carries huge significance, enriching our lives.”

He refers to this as an object’s “emotional value” and deems it to be a worthy design goal.

Norman’s closing thought is that although Design is important, the concept of Personal Interaction is even more so.  He then states that this Personal Interaction can be established by:

“…when an object’s special characteristics makes it a daily part of our lives, when it deepens our satisfaction, whether because of its beauty, its behaviour, or its reflective component.”

Norman concludes his book, quoting William Morris, who when speaking of golden rules for design said:

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”


Having read through Norman’s thoughts on Emotion within Design I can see areas where I will need to consider the emotions I wish to ignite in the people who view or use my works.  However, I am aware that everyone has their own individual personality coming from the sum of their life experiences.

Norman’s thoughts on mass-production and their inability to produce personal objects are also relevant as they impact on any decisions to create a personal, yet commercial piece.

Norman’s thoughts on the lifetime of an object, I found to be quite interesting.  Their maturing or decomposing, like leaves throughout the seasons, may lead to some interesting innovations.  It has certainly given me food for thought.

Both of these points, mass-production and lifetime, are relevant within Craft, as there are preconceptions that Craft means quality and long-lasting, while mass-production means throw-away and disposable.


Norman, D. A. (2002), “Emotion and design: Attractive things work better,” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/emotion_design_attractive_things_work_better.html, Last Accessed December 17, 2011.

Norman, D. A. (2002), “Emotion and design: We are all designers,” http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/CH-Epilog.pdf, Last Accessed December 16, 2011.


Decriminalisation of Ornament

Next on my research reading list is Alice Twemlow’s The Decriminalization of Ornament.

Written in 2005 for Eye Magazine, it is a contemporary reply to Adolf Loos’ Ornament and Crime.

The author is very quick to state that Ornament has an important role to play in today’s society.  That of a visual language.

“Ornament is clearly an integral part of the dominant visual language of the moment.”

As cases in point, Twemlow points to the works of Dutch designer Tord Boontje, and the extent of the success of his filigree light shades sold at Habitat.

Tord Lampshade

Tord Lampshade

The author then points to further examples of the popular resurgence of decorative detail across the contemporary design climate.

“In the past few years the pages we turn, the screens we summon, and the environments we visit are sprouting with decorative detail, geometric patterns, mandalas, fleurons, and the exploratory tendrils of lush flora.”

Twemlow then asks the question, what has changed in the design world, that has led to a relaxing of opinions and even welcoming of Ornament, and considers the long-term implications.

The Author then examines the fluctuations of Ornamentation’s popularity, from “good to bad and back to good again, possibly.”  Twemlow states that the roles of nature, history and sources from outside of Europe were all hotly debated subjects within the design world of the mid 19th century.  Twemlow cites the mass production of decorative detail as further complicating the great design debate, making Ornamentation more commonplace and less appreciated.

This mass availability of Ornamentation led to the design debate changing to question whether these objects were still ornate, and whether these commercial products were still of ornamental value.

The most critical designer of that time who was against the use of Decoration, was, according to Twemlow, Austrian designer Adolf Loos.  Twemlow summarises Loos’ argument as follows:

“In his view, Ornament was a waste of man-power, health, materials and capital.  In a highly productive nation he wrote, ‘Ornament is no longer a natural product of its culture, and therefore represents backwardness or even a degenerative tendency.'”

Twemlow concludes that Loos and other members of the design cognoscenti of the time led to the growth of Modernism and that also led to a decline in the use of Ornamentation for architecture, industrial design and graphic design.  This was to remain the case for a good duration of the 20th  century.

Twemlow then discusses the possibility that Ornamentation’s resurgence is attributed to it simply rotating into fashion, as it is starkly contrasting to the previous trend of neo-Modernism of the early 2000’s.

However, she discounts this and believes that there is something deeper going on.  She cites the usage of pre-industrial, often rural landscapes and the use of animals (stags and owls in particular) as clues to what she is trying to discover.

“by seeking recourse to the visual symbolism of heraldry, contemporary and largely urban designers appear to be trying to recreate a past and a rural idyll as an escape from the real urban present.”

The author is quick to point out that she does not believe this is a rotation into Ornate style, but that Ornamentation is being applied to the neo-Modernism trends of the early 2000’s.

Twemlow delves deeper, stating that she believes a subtler celebration of uselessness is apparent in contemporary Ornamentation.

The author further examines the contemporary works, and believes that the ornate elements are not prescribed from some stock listing but are instead born out of the design piece itself.  As if the decorative elements are a voice, that transmit a story or history or both.

“Sometimes the decorative elements in a piece of work are not merely sampled from a palette of choices but emanate directly from content and are integrated at a deep level with concept. They do as much work as the word in communicating.”

The makers are then examined by the author.  Twemlow looks at what is needed to make an Ornamented piece, and cites Armin Vit as stating:

“Heavy ornamentation requires a type of character not found among many people. It’s a balance of obsessive compulsiveness, an acute sense of style and an understanding of when to stop.’ But also involved and obsessed physically – with the making of the thing.”

Twemlow summarises that craft, decoration and ornament have a symbiotic relationship, and suggests that this applies and translates quite well into the digital craft design.  With the use of technology as a tool, contemporary designers can access greater detail and have a finer degree of control over the finished product, in contrast to previous eras where the design plate may have been handed off to a number of other cogs in the design wheel (e.g. lithographer, printmaker, etc.)

With respect to the purpose, rational or justification of Decoration, Twemlow quotes Gonzales Crisp as saying that:

“The rational aspect of the decorational is its capacity to tell, not only in a story-like way, but also in a metonymic way in the same way that icons do.”

Gonzales Crisp believes that the exciting element of Decorational work is in its “complexity” and can also be about “establishing empathy or providing escape.”

In closing, Twemlow suggests that decoration, pattern and ornament shall survive their supposed pendulum trend rotation as they offer contemporary designers options that differ from the established view that a designer is simply a:

“solver of problems and a simplifier of things.”

Twemlow’s full text can be read here: link.


Twemlow, A. ‘The Decriminalization of Ornament,’ Eye, No. 58, Vol. 15 edited by John L. Walters, Haymarket, London, Winter 2005.

Loos’ Ornament and Crime

Just finished reading Adolf Loos’ article “Ornament and Crime.”

Written in 1908, Loos discusses the place of Ornamentation in modern society.

He stated that the evolution of man and culture was being hampered by Ornament.  What he believed was that Ornament was a waste of man-power, time, raw materials and business capital.

He believed that Ornaments had no place in modern society, socially or economically.

He gives the example of tribal man (Papuans, etc.) and calls their use of tattooing and craft as being primitive.  He further states, that modern men in his society who choose to adorn themselves in tattoos, were degenerates and criminals.

Loos closes his essay with:

 “Primitive men had to differentiate themselves by various colors, modern man needs his clothes as a mask. His individuality is so strong that it can no longer be expressed in terms of items of clothing. The lack of ornament is a sign of intellectual power.”

Loos’ essay can be read in full here: link.


I found Loos’ comments relating to body art and tattooing quite prejudice and uncivilised and therefore I could not agree.

As my example I would refer to Henna or Mehndi skin decoration as an instance where I see beauty.

Mehandi / Henna Skin Decoration

Mehandi / Henna Skin Decoration

For the people who see it as a link to their tradition and past, there is a deeper emotional connection.


Loos, A. Ornament and Crime: Selected Essays, Ariadne Press, 1997, pp. 167-177

Industrial Decoration

Lace Fence

Rotterdam-based Design House, Demakersvan first caught my eye when I saw their unique usage of Lace.  This piece, “The Lace Fence,” is very clever.

The Lace Fence

Demakersvan state that Industrial production inspires them and would be their main source of inspiration.  However, they also find beauty when you look at objects closely.

They recreate this delicate, small beauty on a larger scale in an industrial setting.

“Fencing is a sign how we modified and cultivated our environment.  Hostility versus kindness, industrial versus craft.”