You Have Emotions and So Do I

Eadin Wang

You have emotions, and so do I.

And so do people exposed to your design.

Lex’s essay on critical thinking and emotion discusses how emotions function in our thinking process, and reminds me of the role that emotions play in the actual design process. Don Norman, one of the most critical figures in the field of design, has written a whole book Emotional Design, where he argues that to a product’s success, the emotional side of design may be more important than the practical elements. I have found these theories intriguing and sensible, because ultimately, no matter how rational we humans are, we are driven by emotions as well. In addition, especially in the current era, people are no longer satisfied with pure function, and would like to pay for things with intangible values such as rewarding communication with others. In fact, many of our discussions in class have exactly touched upon emotional design, such as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, national identity design and the Palisra project. Emotional design is, to some extent I can say, everywhere. And I would like to guide you to dive deeper into this ocean.

First of all, let’s define emotional design. Okay, easy, design that evokes emotions; design that leads to positive emotional associations. Yes, there’s nothing wrong. But what if we want to define emotion design, emotional design, and emotionalize design? Are you still confident? I experienced the same slap in the face when I realized there are so many different concepts and even emotional design alone is already complex. Although the confusion partially results from different language usage (emotion/emotional etc.), the profound meaning of emotional design does not fade. I’m quoting Amic G. Ho and Kin Wai Michael Siu’s summary of emotional design’s key criteria for emotional design. They did better than me.

  • The user process evoking an emotion to a design outcome is universal, but the emotional responses were rather complex and personal.
  • There were three levels of information processing according to the situation and response: visceral, behavioural and reflective.
  • Emotional Design was not only communicated through the style of design, function, form and usability, but also built up experience for the user on their needs and demands.
  • Emotional Design should be consumed by the users and was more likely to appear in the real market.
  • Changes to the positive and negative emotion of users in the overall consumption would affect the customers’ loyalty to the product (design outcome).

This is from a user-driven perspective. In other words, it focuses on the relationship between the user and the design outcome. There are also theories looking into the relation between designer and the design outcome or among the users and designers, but here I’m focusing on the emotion in the user and design outcome relationship.

Emotions influence people’s attention, memory, and therefore generation of meaning and decision making. Through intentional design choices, we can create feelings for our users. As mentioned above, there are ‘three levels of design’ regarding people’s information processing introduced by Don Norman.

  1. The visceral level, meaning users’ subconscious first impressions of the design outcomes and the emotional responses institutively given.
  2. The behavioral level, meaning users’ behaviors based on the emotions raised by the design outcomes subconsciously.
  3. The reflective level, meaning users’ conscious judgment of a design’s usefulness and value.

You might find these cognitive processes a bit vague and subtle. In reality they just happen in a second without even being noticed, but they point out potential ways of manipulating users’ reactions. Based on Norman’s theories, more people have turned to focus on users’ needs and experience. In this way, designs associated with emotion are able to provide pleasurable experiences and memories. Furthermore, we build emotional connections with users.

Emotional design is by no means the opposite to rationality. We need rational functionality, and we need emotional value as well. As you all can tell, the Munari tree introduces us to the rational and logical side of design, but that does not mean we should give up all the emotional and irrational thinking. We can identify what others need or want and build emotional connections by subjective empathy as well as objective analysis. The key then is about how we balance consideration of aspects such as functionality, aesthetics, emotional values, and evaluate their tradeoffs.

To achieve good emotional design, a lot of social, cultural and psychological elements would be involved. Lying between perception and cognition is the mental process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought and previous experience. To put it simpler, your previous experience determines your current interpretation of things. Therefore, I regard language and culture as distinctive examples in such processes, for which I would like to point out:


Localizing the design in areas such as branding raises cultural resonance. Through the incorporation of traditional Chinese visual elements, the store-specific visual design of Apple Sanlitun, Beijing, China, has been successful at least for me. Starting from the construction stage, Apple shows people how it appreciates and adapts to local culture, and raises a warm and impressed feeling in my mind.

(Apple does such things for stores all over the world. )



Storys/Narratives engage people in a way with complex emotional results. In this video, Kika Douglas elaborates on her design utilizing storytelling for Volkswagen.

We have learned many design principles in class. These discussions might be nothing new either. I do agree learning and practicing make us better designers, but I hope people never design like a machine applying skills and knowledge, but genuinely take human emotions into consideration, as a human designer.

Lat but not least! I wish all my classmates, and Goffredo, a good journey for your future life.


Amic G. Ho & Kin Wai Michael G. Siu (2012) “Emotion Design, Emotional Design, Emotionalize Design: A Review on Their Relationships from a New Perspective,” The Design Journal, 15(1), 9-32, DOI: 10.2752/175630612X13192035508462

Norman, D. A. (2004). Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.


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