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.


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