Review: Emotional Design

Sources_EmotionalDesignMy Rating: 3.5/5

About the Book
Donald Norman is a very well-respected researcher in cognitive psychology. His theories have been widely adopted into interaction design, human-computer interaction, cognitive science, and other related fields. In this, perhaps one of his more popular books, Norman describes his perspective as to why we respond emotionally the way we do to objects. Norman spent the majority of his career looking at usability and cognition. Towards the end of his career, he began to notice something: despite what usability research found, he still had a very emotional response to designs. While he didn’t come up with the original research, Norman is widely recognized as having spread awareness of the aesthetic-usability affect, which is a design principle that suggests things work better when they look attractive. This book is his most famous work that outlines that theory, though it is written for mass consumption (not academics). For a quick overview of what the book discusses, see Donand Norman’s TED Talk.

Author: Donald A. Norman
Publisher: Basic Books
Cost: about $13 on Amazon
ISBN: 978-0465051366

What I Liked
Norman’s theories about visceral, behavioral, and reflective emotional responses to design are useful for so many applications. His further discussions about designing for fun, pleasure, and games are also particularly intriguing. Norman does an excellent job using household objects that we can all relate to and describe his theories about our emotional reactions to the confluence of aesthetics and usability. Whether designers practice graphic design, interior design, industrial design, or information design, they will greatly benefit from this book. It is written for a broad audience and is accessible to anyone without in-depth knowledge in psychology or human-computer interaction.

What I Didn’t Like
More than anything else, the thing I didn’t like the most about this book is it is redundant. Norman seems to quickly lose steam from chapter to chapter and he fails to give us real depth into cognitive science. His chapter on the visceral, behavioral, and reflective aspects of emotional design seems to be repeated by about 30% in every chapter. While it is understandable that the book was written for an audience not well-versed in cognitive psychology, much more could have been done to educate such an audience. The ideas that drive the book are excellent; however, if that is all Norman had to say on the subject, he could have done so in half as many pages.