Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things (Response 1)

For my INSYS class, we were to read the prologue and first chapter for this book. My response follows. It was supposed to be 500 words, but I went over.

Norman’s three levels of processing:

  • Visceral: Processing is fast and primal. Decisions are made as response mechanisms based on fixed routines. This is the lizard brain in action and represents the lowest level of brain functioning.
  •  Behavioral: Where most human processing takes place. Analyze a situation and alter behaviors accordingly. Sensitive to experiences, training, and education.
  •  Reflective: Does not have direct access to the sensory input or behavioral control. It exists to bias the behavioral level. It is where we contemplate.

I currently work a regular day job, but have intermittent responsibilities to two outside contracts. I’m also taking this class and performing duties as mom and wife. On the visceral level, I am in panic mode. I have so many things to get done that my brain is on overload and the only way I can cope is to run away and pretend it is not there. Behaviorally, I work every day, performing the duties that are expected and come naturally to me. I can edit a 20 page document in about 90 minutes with little to no thought. Viscerally, I wonder if this is really what I am meant to do. The extra jobs bring in great money, but at what price?

Norman postulates that attractive things work better. An example that corroborates this from my daily life is my KitchenAid mixer. I own a hand mixer, a Sunbeam stand mixer, and a KitchenAid. The KitchenAid is an exercise in elegance. Even in white, it is majestic: smooth lines, hints of stainless steel, a beast among mixers. When I make my cheesecakes, I use the KitchenAid. I know that if I use the electric beaters or the sunbeam, the cake will mix up just as well as with my KitchenAid. I just like the KitchenAid more and believe because it is such a quality (and beautiful) piece of equipment, it does the better job. Really.

On the contrary, I bought a really beautiful laptop for Christmas 2 years ago. It had all kinds of function and sparkle and bling. In the past three months, it has given me the black screen of death three times and each time I had to reinstall the operating system. I go to conferences, and it is too heavy to handle. It’s a brick. My iPad—a simple, non-assuming piece of technology—has become my go-to piece of technology over this fancy piece of junk.

When we design things, we need to take into account all three levels of processing. At the most basic level, we have to ensure the safety and security of our learners. They need to be welcomed into a supportive environment. Once we establish that, we need to allow them to perform to the best of their abilities (highlighting their behavioral processes.) Then, we need to lift them to a place of self-actualization, where they take what they are learning and incorporate it into something beyond normal, everyday things.

As a designer, it’s important to build this ecosystem for our learners. It’s like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Learners need certain basic constructs to move upward, plying their skills and talents to achieve the most of their abilities.

As Keats said

“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” – that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

We need to keep this in mind at all times as designers of learning.


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