The Behavioral Level of Emotional Design

Ankur Kushwaha | 31st December 2018

A number of theories of emotion and pleasure have either been imported from other disciplines or developed in interaction design. A goal is to help designers understand how people react and respond when in different contexts and to help them know how to design for or try to reduce certain emotions.”
– Rogers, Sharp, and Preece, Usability authors in “Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction” (2011)

In the context of design, design and usability expert Don Norman’s three-level model is the most well-known attempt to address the relationship between emotion and design, with each of these levels representing a different type of processing: visceral, behavioral and reflective processing.

Within his work on emotion and design, Norman emphasizes the importance of designing for positive and fitting emotional responses, arguing that this is an equally important consideration as the interactive experience (i.e. usability). The second tier or middle level of Norman’s model focuses on behavioral processing.

According to Norman, this level of processing is responsible for the majority of our everyday actions, such as making food and drink, traveling (e.g., walking, driving, and cycling), and typing.

Designing for Behavioral Processing

When there is a disconnect between the user’s actions/behavior and the results of these in the object, device, tool, etc. they are using, this represents a failure to support or complement behavioral processing.

Products provide better emotional experiences when they respond in ways that are predictable or easily anticipated; at least, this is the case with the majority of products.

Achieving harmony between product and user in this regard is the result of various factors, which collectively enable the users to accurately predict the results of their actions with the minimum of conscious effort.

The Influence of Behavioral Processing

Behavioral design is fundamentally concerned with use—how the users carry out their tasks and how the product can support them in carrying out the component actions required for successful, efficient and error-free goal completion.

However, behavioral processing is not simply a result of the interactive conditions at the point of use (i.e. how the product behaves following interaction); instead, this level of Norman et al.’s (2005) three-tiered model of emotion and design is influenced by both visceral and reflective processing.


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Ankur Kushwaha

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