Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things

ISBN: 0465051367
ISBN 13: 9780465051366
By: Donald A. Norman

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About this book

Did you ever wonder why cheap wine tastes better in fancy glasses? Why sales of Macintosh computers soared when Apple introduced the colorful iMac? New research on emotion and cognition has shown that attractive things really do work better, as Donald Norman amply demonstrates in this fascinating book, which has garnered acclaim everywhere from Scientific American to The New Yorker.Emotional Design articulates the profound influence of the feelings that objects evoke, from our willingness to spend thousands of dollars on Gucci bags and Rolex watches, to the impact of emotion on the everyday objects of tomorrow.Norman draws on a wealth of examples and the latest scientific insights to present a bold exploration of the objects in our everyday world. Emotional Design will appeal not only to designers and manufacturers but also to managers, psychologists, and general readers who love to think about their stuff.

Reader's Thoughts

Michael Scott

(I chose to write this review only after reading both Emotional Design and The Design of Everyday Things. The wait was worthwhile.) Emotional Design focuses on the aesthetics of things, that is, on what makes an object desirable (for a human). Just like the influential late-1980s book by Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, this book marks a belief shift, from performance and usability, to catering to human impulse and cognitive responses. In other words, Norman argues that we are no longer interested exclusively in performance and function, and that emotion plays an important role in what we think about objects.Norman introduces a framework for our response to objects, with three layers. The visceral layer is where humans react to thrills, colors, lighting, etc.; there is little or no thinking involved at this layer. For example, when the camera angle points upwards to the face of the character, we understand (as a gut feeling, or sensation) that the character is a hero. At the behavioral layer, humans think about the properties of the object, and place themselves in the role of users/participants. This is the layer where humans appreciate the functionality, usability, and performance of objects. At the reflective layer, humans take a metaphorical step back and analyze the object and the way they can interact with it. For example, even a colorless and useless (broken) object can appeal at this layer to humans, who may be attracted by a story that includes the object (how the object was broken during a war, while in the pocket of a long-gone grandparent).The book abounds in excellent writing and ideas (for a rather technical mind). Here are three things I've noticed, at very different levels. Norman argues in Chapter 5 that "the real power of Instant Messaging isn't the message [...] it's the presence detection. Knowing that someone is there." I was wondering since the first mention in this book of the word robot about Asimov's "Laws of Robotics", and thought that Norman is focusing much on the individual objects and not about groups, so (1) Was he going to discuss these laws? (2) Was he going to discuss the Zeroth Law? To my real, deep surprise, Norman did both, and quite excellently so. (This alone increased the rating I've given this book by a star.) I was also very interested to read about personalization and customization, two issues I'm struggling with in my own designs. There's not much about them in this book, but there's something. For the rest ... there's too much to discuss in this review.While I enjoyed the book and I liked much of it, I was less impressed with its novelty and depth. First, I am not sure about the novelty of this position. For once, in computer science and in particular in computer-human interaction and computer graphics the importance of aesthetics was understood much earlier, perhaps even from the beginning of the 1990s (see the focus of the SIGGRAPH conferences of that era). The researchers of entertainment, especially movies, have developed very similar frameworks much earlier; Norman refers to Jon Boorstin's The Hollywood Eye: What Makes Movies Work (1990). Second, I am sure many must have raised this objection, but Norman's view is very much rich-country oriented. There are billions of people to which Norman's book surely does not yet apply, and Norman should have mentioned this. Third, some of the treatment of the more technical aspects, such as deadlocks when contending for resources and its potential solutions, is truly naive.Overall, a very good and modern book on design, with an almost exclusive focus on aesthetics. Perhaps not as good as The Design of Everyday Things, but an excellent companion. Rec: must-read for every designer of user-facing products.


Donald Norman is a pretty big inspiration to me, being the first person who got me to think about the why of design. His book swings from a bit of psychology on over to product designers' roles in shaping the world we live in. His perspective is that each object in our environment has a psychological effect on people by its very presence and by how we interact with it (or don't).I still chuckle at the resounding failures of many so-called "Norman doors" with the wrong affordances, and the hasty hand-written notes often needed to explain things that run contrary to human intuition ("cancel for credit", for instance).


Donald Norman has some interesting thoughts on the emotional component of design and how it intersects with psychology. Unfortunately, the book veers off into a musing about the future, including two whole chapters dedicated to speculating about robots.Norman also has a tendency to repeat himself and reuse quotes, which makes the book tedious to read. Additionally, his frequent gripes about the design of personal computers and electronics haven't aged well and seem anachronistic in the age of iPods and iPads. Perhaps the reader can find some value in considering what changed in the design of these technologies to make them so much more tolerable--even pleasant--to use than their predecessors a decade ago.What could have been a concise and insightful treatise on the emotional component of design dragged out into a disjointed ramble that read like a collection of a designer's blog posts. Read for the first half, but don't feel guilty for ditching it after that.

Jessamyn Smallenburg

Donald Norman's book on the emotional design of tangible things beautifully illustrates the ways in which objects can impact our emotions. To describe the way human emotions can be evoked, Norman uses descriptive examples, including the power of music to elicit strong feelings. The final portions of his book consider artificial intelligence, the current state of affairs, and where we might be headed in the future in terms of robotics. This book is comprehensive in the number of subjects covered in order to illustrate the powerful impact designs have on human emotions.


Anyone who designs anything must read this book. The biggest takeaway - the lesson I still remember years later - is that when someone hates or gets frustrated with your creation, it's not their fault. They aren't stupid. They're human. Your design is wrong. Many more valuable lessons are in this book. Enthusiastically recommended.

Manolo Frias

This is a good book to understand why we need to take into account emotions when designing anything, being a chair, a map, or a document.It explains why some designs fail ("mainly because designers and engineers are often self-centered") and why some succeed ("emotions change the way the human mind solves problems").It is full of good examples but I feel that it would need a new edition to update them. This book was written in 2004 before iPhone and Facebook!The last part about robots was for me nonsense.

Nick Gotch

The first (and larger) part of Emotional Design is classic Norman: thorough analysis, dissection, and reflection on why and how the design of different things affects us. This part gets into some fascinating ideas that can definitely help any kind of designer make a better product. There's no shortage of theories put forth (with good backing) for why and how we connect with things.Norman breaks down our emotional reaction and connection to different things into three groups: visceral, behavioral, & reflective. He does a good job citing cases when these three apply and gets across a firm understanding of what makes each up.For the most part, there're plenty of colorful references and products that keep the reader's attention during all this narration. There are a few parts that might be a little dry but they're short and don't really take much away from the overall enjoyment of the book.That's the "traditional" side to the book. But then Mr. Norman seems to venture off into the realm of Sci-Fi near the end of the book when he gets into machines WITH emotions: robots in the future. He cites Isaac Asimov's 4 Laws and really delves into philosophical discussion.Now I personally thought this was great, afterall I just eat up sci-fi and futurist stuff. So for me, this was fun & no great departure from what I usually read; however, I'm not sure it fits in line with the "traditional" reader of this kind of book. For instance, the typical business design student or engineer could gain a great deal from the first half of this book but might feel out of place by the end.Personally I feel the book's a great read with lots of nice tips & ideas. And if you're a designer of anything the book can surely help you grow. Just might not need the last two or so chapters unless you're plannng on building a C3P0 droid in your cellar.

Almuerto Velorio

..... en así muchos objetos para humanos son un espejo de si mismos, con rostro y gesticulan.....


Like always, Don Norman is very insightful and thoughtful about how design interacts with us. Like his style and his other books, some chapters are rather long and proves the same point. However i cherish his books in my book shelf

Johanna Lynn

This was a belated follow-up to Norman's Design of Everyday Things, where he neglected an important psychological factor in design--emotion, the visceral evocation of attachment to objects in our lives. This book addresses that aspect.

Stefano Bussolon

This is the only book written by Norman I would not recommend. It is based on a theory of emotion and cognition that have never been confirmed and supported outside the ux community. Our mind don't works like that, we don't have 3 brains, and everything is much more complicated.


In the epilogue of this book, Don Norman expresses his gratitude to a myriad of people who helped him organize many years worth of disparate notes into a cohesive book. For me, ‘Emotional Design’ remained rather disconnected. Not in an altogether bad way, the book reads like the (slightly rambling) classroom lecture from a venerable guru …with the reader left to pull it all together.Norman offers an illuminating model - distinguishing between 3 layers of design: visceral, behavioral and reflective - to understand why people like the objects they do. And like ‘Design of Everyday Things’ he explores this model with numerous fun and apropos examples. But soon the book wanders from discussion of this cognitive model to pondering on the future of design. According to Norman this future will be marked by our increased dependence on smart robots in every facet of life, where the more we grow to depend on these servants of our own making – functionally and emotionally - the more the line between man and robot will become less and less clear. All this talk of material stuff and robotic servitude makes ‘Emotional Design’ a testament to American consumerism and I was moderately disappointed by the lack of freshness here. A worthwhile read from the man who brought us ‘The Design of Everyday Things’, but ultimately one that falls in the category of ‘plane book’. That is, the type of book I read on a plane because I know I’ll have no other escape.


We are surrounded by things, and the way we relate to them is as important as the way they impact us. Design is the art, science and technology that address the shape, role, functionality and appeal of things (mostly artificial). The author developed a set of ideas about design throughout is winded career in and out of academia, and this book captures a part of those while hinting at how he reached them and how possibly he is still making up his mind about them. Indeed the author shows even in this rather informal treatise that he knows bunches, but honestly he is a bit too much self-spoken (as he also shows in at least one TED talk on this subject matter) to be invisible as the greatest expert guides should be. But that's about the defect of the text--quite personal, though this is maybe inevitable or at least allowed in design for evident reasons.Norman purports a few interesting things here. First, things work better when they are nicer. Not because there is a metaphysical causality between the function and attraction, but because excited or amused users are more tolerant to faults and are more creative as they are in cognitive ease, thus can find by themselves solutions to (minor) problems and understand better in general how things actually works. This led Norman, in comparison to his earlier address of function only, to appreciate the role of appeal, aesthetics and emotions in design. Together with his colleagues at Northwestern University he then proposed a theory of emotion scaffolded around three levels: visceral (reactive), behavioral (functional) and reflective (contemplative). The books is about the description of these levels, how a good design is complete when all of them are addressed satisfactorily, and viceversa how to improve the standard design of things in view of this assets. He then dedicates two chapters to robots and claims that they need emotions to work better, as other roboticists are also claiming. In the second he presents an overview of the future and comments on the need/application of Asimov's laws for robots, yet he fails to mention that all of this is longly disputed in the hypothesis of the Singularity--rather odd, as he seems pretty up-to-date for the rest of the book (to the point that sometime one is left to wonder whether the ideas presented are all his or sneaked from some other sources). The book concludes with the exaltation of customization as the ultimate design tool in the hands of everyone (so that anyone cannot not be a designer, as simply as in the way (s)he puts chairs in the house and uses tools), on possible mass production tailored to individuality (loss of ancient crafts en passing), and the need of things that age gracefully with the user to enforce the bond with them.Norman gives his best when he comments on the rationale of actual designs, often showed in pictures, and how to appreciate them. His style is simple and flowing, though at times it shows him mostly thinking aloud. A stimulating read overall, to look at things ordinary in a more subtle way.

Elia Nelson

I love about this book the same thing I love about his first book - the examples are interesting, relevant, and extremely well described. The book might be even better without the slightly bizarre focus on social robotics at the end of it. But his point, that we do form emotional attachments to things, that those attachments are exaggerated when the objects can respond to us, and that those attachments genuinely affect how well something works, are important ones. When my friends and family ask just exactly what it is I'm studying in grad school, and then want to know more, this is the most readable book that I can direct them to.


A older, more seasoned Norman revises his old "function over design" paradigm with this book about third-wave design. No longer are design and usability at odds, but rather they complement each other. Why do you feel more confidently when you are well dressed? Why does your car drive a little bit better after a car wash?The first half of the book is a wonderful guide into this merger for the first half of the book. However, it starts delving into movie psychology and robotics about half way through with little explaination as to why. One wonders if Norman just wanted to write about his current fancy.Still, this is another light but intriguing read into the world of product design.

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