Source Code. Projects. Nerd Stuff. Art Stuff.

Emotional Design

Posted on September 16th, by amoeboar in classes, pcomp. No Comments

Norman, Attractive Things Work Better

Norman makes the argument that attractive things work better, because an object’s usability is closely tied into our experiences with it. He uses the term “affect” to suggest that our intuitive, emotional system (different from our systems of cognition) is judgmental, assigning positive and negative valence to the environment rapidly and efficiently. He argues that pleasing things work better, are easier to learn, and produce a more harmonious result, largely on the basis that negative affect can make simple tasks more difficult because of our state of mind while operating these mechanisms. Frustration with a device’s operation leads to anxiety, frustration, and tunnel-vision which makes problem-solving more difficult. Likewise, positive affect can make some difficult tasks easier, especially in a reward-system, where the “positive affective system can change the cognitive parameters of problem solving to emphasize breadth-first thinking, and the examination of multiple alternatives.”

Crawford backs up his claim with this: “Good human-centered design practices are most essential for tasks or situations that are stressful: distractions, bottlenecks, and irritations need to be minimized.” He says that while in pleasant, positive situations, people are much more likely to be tolerant of minor difficulties and irrelevancies and that when people are in a relaxed situation, the pleasant, pleasurable aspects of the design will make them more tolerant of difficulties and problems in the interface.

While I agree with a lot of this so far from a psychological and psycho-cognitive perspective, it’s hard to bring me along on the idea that a product works better because I’m in a good mood while operating it. This is more of a “I’m working for the product” way of looking at it rather than the “product is working for me.” I believe that a good design is independent of this, and will operate well because it is well-implemented, can perform well in a range of situations, by a range of users, and likewise under a range of conditions, regardless of, and in fact at times in spite of, how I’m feeling at the time. A good designer has to plan for the fact that sometimes a student might be stressed out, and he might slam on his keyboard until the keys fall out when his browser freezes.

He narrows his objects into categories: tools meant for stressful situations, which are meant to support serious, concentrated effort, and tools meant for neutral or positive situations, where “any pleasure derivable from the appearance or functioning of the tool increases positive affect, broadening the creativity and increasing the tolerance for minor difficulties and blockages.” Also, for these tools for positive situations, minor flaws are overlooked. But should they be?

What about tools that aren’t meant for any kind of situation? Into which category do they fall? The argument begins to fall apart when consideration for situations is taken outside of his idealized scenario. Lumped disciplines are good for many things, but for a concept as broad as “What makes good design?” I think there has to be a lot of breathing room for outliers. My overall impression of this reading is that just because we overlook certain things about a product doesn’t makes its inherent usability better. While I definitely agree that a solid design takes user experience into account, I don’t believe that this argument should be used as a crutch, a fail-safe or a catch-all.

[gn_divider top="0"]

Norman, Design of Everyday Things

Here, Norman talks about an object’s usability, stating that they should be intuitive. Much of what is considered “human error” is actually because of a design flaw. Many objects in our everyday environment are difficult to manipulate, with doors being a great example. For something that has two functions (open or closed), there seem to be many people pushing when they should be pulling, pulling when they should be pushing, pushing right instead of left, and so on. Some open automatically (or not, and only after you’ve smacked into them), some spin around in a circle, and some slide vertically.

A major principle of design that needs to be addressed is visibility: the correct parts must be visible, and they must convey the correct message. Visibility, appropriate clues, and feedback of one’s actions are three principles that constitute a form of psychology of how people interact with things. The designer has task to make the operation of an object clear, and take advantage of what people are expected to know.

Immediate feedback is a good mechanism for interactivity, too. It gives the user solid cues and keeps him or her engaged. If there is too much of a delay, there could be a misconception about how the controls are being read, and what exactly your actions are doing.

Leave a Reply