I love Don Norman’s contribution to field user experience design. He’s one of my heroes. His books The Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design are an essential part of my library. After The Design of Everyday Things was published, Don Norman faced some criticism and he wrote an article in response. The bottom line is that Donald Norman says that attractive things can be more usable. Here are some excerpts from the article.

The “usable but ugly” critique of The Design of Everyday Things has merit insofar as usable designs are not necessarily pleasurable ones. As my story of the three teapots indicates, pleasurable designs are not necessarily usable. But need these attributes be in conflict? Why not beauty and brains, pleasure and usability? When I wrote The Design of Everyday Things, my intention was not to denounce beauty. I simply wanted to position usability in its proper place in the design world: equal to beauty, equal to function: equal, but not superior. I neglected the topic of aesthetics because I thought it already well covered elsewhere. Unfortunately, my neglect was interpreted by many to imply that I was against beauty, for usability at all costs.

The field of usability design takes root in the cognitive sciences — a combination of psychology, computer science, human factors, and engineering. These are all analytical fields. The discipline prides itself on its scientific basis and experimental rigor. The hidden danger is to neglect areas that are not easily addressed in the framework of science and engineering.

The tensions between aesthetics and usability as well as those between affect and cognition have long bothered me, but it has not been until now that I have been able to make progress in bringing these areas together.

Affect and emotion are not as well understood as cognition, but the cognitive and neurosciences have made major strides in the past decade. Note that terminology is still a problem, so in this paper, to avoid the technical debate about distinctions among the concepts of affect, emotion, feelings, mood, motivation, and qualia, I use the reasonably neutral term of “affect.” Affect and cognition can both be considered information processing systems, but with different functions and operating parameters. The affective system is judgmental, assigning positive and negative valence to the environment rapidly and efficiently. The cognitive system interprets and makes sense of the world. Each system impacts the other: some emotions — affective states — are driven by cognition, and cognition is impacted by affect.

The surprise is that we now have evidence that pleasing things work better, are easier to learn, and produce a more harmonious result.

Good design means that beauty and usability are in balance. An object that is beautiful to the core is no better than one that is only pretty if they both lack usability.

In the quest for enhancement of life, let us not be usability bigots. Yes, products must be usable. But all the many factors of design must be in harmony. Marketing considerations must be accounted for, aesthetic appeal, manufacturability — all are important. The products must be affordable, functional, and pleasurable. And above all a pleasure to own, a pleasure to use. After all, attractive things work better.


The full article can be read at the following links:

Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better