Shane Long Zhong


Emotional Design – Visceral, Behavioural and Reflective Design

The creation of a design with a principle of form-follows-function was first coined by American architect Louis Sullivan in 1896 in the context of industrialisation. However, it is difficult to continually produce works as the products are based upon their intended function or purpose but lack consideration of human emotion within an increasingly humanised context. According to Hartmut Esslinger, ‘form-follows-function’ was a simplistic and misunderstood reduction of Sullivan’s wider description. He believes that ‘function’ is essential, however, humans always strive for a deeper meaning (Design & Emotion, 2014). Therefore, Harmut Esslinger coined ‘form-follows-emotion’. Following this, Donald Norman, a usability specialist and cognitive psychologist, joined the mission of the emotion study and published Emotional Design in 2004. Emotional design mainly applies to industrial design and interaction design.

In this book, Dr. Norman’s studies of emotion suggest that human brains process information on three different levels: ‘the automatic, prewired layer, referred to as the visceral level, the part that contains the brain processes that control everyday behaviour, known as the behavioural level, and the contemplative part of the brain, or the reflective level.’ (Norman, D. 2014, P.21) Correspondingly, according to Donald Norman (2014), these three levels can be mapped in terms of product characteristics as follows:

Visceral design > Appearance
Behavioural design > The pleasure and effectiveness of use
Reflective design > Self-image, personal satisfaction, memories

 Visceral design refers to aesthetics, behavioural design is concerned primarily with use and reflective design covers a broad territory, including the culture, the meaning of a product or its use, personal memories or something it evokes, self-image or the message a product sends to others (Norman, D. 2004). Put simply, I would say that emotional design refers to how a product looks, how it works and how it feels.


Figure 01

Philippe Starck’s ‘Juicy Salif’ citrus juicer (Figure 01) is a good example contained in Dr. Norman’s study. As Starck is rumoured to have said, ‘My juicer is not meant to squeeze lemons; it is meant to start conversations’ (Norman, D. 2014, P.114). This juicer was seductive and visceral enough to attract Dr. Norman’s attention. However, on a behavioural level, the product might not work very well because the gold-plated juicer would inevitably be damaged by the acidic fluid. However, an important component of the juicer is the reflective joy of explanation. In essence, it tells a story. Anyone who owns it must show it off, explain it and demonstrate it (Norman, D. 2014). Dr. Norman also proudly displays it in his own entrance hall and his colleagues have conducted analysis for Dr. Norman on why the product is so bizarre yet inexplicably delightful (Norman, D. 2014). They came to the following conclusions:

1. Entices by diverting attention.
2. Delivers surprising novelty.
3. Goes beyond obvious needs and expectations.
4. Creates an instinctive response.
5. Espouses values or connections to personal goals.
6. Promises to fulfil these goals.
7. Leads the casual viewer to discover something deeper about the juicing experience.
8. Fulfils these promises.

Shane Zhong

Shane Zhong