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Emotion System & Product Design

Don Norman propounds the emotional system is made of three different levels, which are visceral, behavioral, and reflective (2003). The visceral level can lead to some unconscious or even almost animalistic characteristics of humans. For instance, we all prefer things with aesthetics, tasty food, and escape from dangerous situations instinctively. On a deeper layer, the behavioral level controls the daily actions of our body and is closely related to the motion system. The highest level of the emotion is about reflection, which was manipulated by cognition. It is also responsible for interpreting and understanding the world.

3 Layers in the Emotion System

So, how does the emotion system affect product design? Since the business goal of product design is to improve efficiency and satisfaction when dealing with tasks, we could divide product design into three corresponding levels as well, which are Perception Design (Visceral Design), Path Design (Behavioral Design), and Emotional Design (Reflection Design).

Visceral Design aims to arouse users’ instinctive reactions in simple ways, consisting of:

  • Understanding: includes conveying the key information ASAP, using visual tools like pictures and videos, etc.

  • Trust: improves users’ sense of safety by marketing (e.g. presenting positive public comments and large sales volume)

  • Value: show the product value. The most common way is by scenarios.

  • Transformation: uses methods like herd mentality and loss aversion, one example of which is designing action call buttons with highlighted colors.

Path Design is also called usability design. It aims to enhance users’ satisfaction by optimizing the task design. Therefore, task and decision-making analysis are especially important at this stage. The common solutions are:

  • Shorten the path: since laziness is our nature… Designers need to avoid repeated processes, such as inputting the same information multiple times. Set default values and use automation are also useful to simplify operational processes.

  • Postpone actions with higher requirements and move easier tasks forward, which can enhance the user's willingness in further operations.

  • Provide gradually increased satisfaction in each stage: The path to accomplish a task can be long, this can prevent users from losing patients and further avoid the loss of users.

Emotional Design usually is used to reduce the distance between users and products to maintain market share.

  • Enhance brand identity: needs to be achieved in the long run, which usually involves after-sales care, promoting the brand story, etc.

  • Satisfy users’ emotional needs: makes users feel being understanding. Personalized customization is one of the examples.


Norman, D., n.d. The Design Of Everyday Things.


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