Monday, April 12, 2010

Products that make us feel happy

Don Norman is an anthropologist who explores the modern day world and helps us understand how product's make people happier. Or feel they are beautiful. Or simple to use. Or add to our power or status.

It all begins with our emotions, and how they change the way we think.

When people are anxious or fearful, neuro-transmitters are squirted into the brain that cause you to focus on the presenting problem. Its "depth-first" thinking, which is good for getting you out of the mess you are in, quickly. When people are happy, dopamine is squirted into the frontal lobes, which leads to "breadth-first" thinking, which opens us up to possibilities and is good for brainstorming, or planning new projects.

There are three levels of emotional functioning of the brain:

* Visceral - that monitors inputs from our senses - sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell - and sneakily controls much of what we feel, so we automatically dislike bitter tastes, loud sounds or extremely hot and cold temperatures, but we equally and automatically love, symmetrical faces or the bright colors of fruits and plants with which we have adapted.

* Behavioral, which monitors our automatic learned actions, that enable us to converse, operate a computer, drive a car or give a speech, without having to consciously think about it, and whose emotions give us feedback about how well we are doing; and

* The Reflective, "thinking" or conscious level of the brain, which does not control anything - either the sensual inputs or our motor actions - but whose emotions give us feedback about everything else, a kind of global view of our performance.

Well-designed products appeal to all aspects of brain functioning. As designers we need to be mindful of these different ways of responding to the products design.

Designers grab our attention with an appeal to the senses by creating bright red motor cars that might otherwise be a lemon, or make bottles with such a beautiful symmetry we want to keep them after we have consumed the contents, or products we never use, but which are so stunning, we put them on show and never use them for their intended purpose.

We can "wow" the customer by attending to functionality and usability and appeal to the emotions that give feedback about our automatic actions. With products that are simple and easy to use, the simpler the better. Like the powerful sharpness of Global knives, the sensuousness of the Kohler shower, or the elegant simplicity of the Ronnefeldt tilting teapot, which keeps the tea leaves out of the liquid.

Or designers can appeal to the "thinking brain" that weighs up what is "good" or"bad", "beautiful" or "ugly", "expensive" or "cheap" or "why are you doing that?". Like the way we decide whether the purchase of a house or a motor car might add to our status. Or if it will help us live a better life? Or make us happier?

You can even get emotions to compete with each other for your attention, so one over-rides the other. Take for example the Jake Cress chair, where one leg has lost its' ball, and the visceral part of our brain says beware, that's looks dangerous, and our reflective brain says, "its OK, its just a designer's playful trick."

So here's a workshop to play with some of Don Norman's ideas:

1. What kinds of products do you associate with fun and enjoyment?
2. What kinds of products do you associate with powerful and useful?
3. What kinds of products do you associate with beautiful?
4. Visceral emotions: Choose one of your senses - sight, taste, touch, hearing, smell. Close your eyes and thinking about that sense, recall/imagine the most wonderful feeling you have ever experienced about a product. Describe the product and the emotion/feeling.
5. Behavioral emotions: Close your eyes and think of a time when you used/experienced a product, how perfectly easy it was to use, or how powerful it felt, how in-tune with your body and the way you act/perform. Describe the product and the emotion/feeling.
6. Reflective emotions: Close your eyes and think of a time when you used/experienced a product when you decided it was the best, the greatest, the most amazing, the most prestigious you had ever experienced. Describe the product and the emotion/feeling.
7. What kinds of emotions are associated with the visceral - the automatic and direct experience via the senses?
8. What kinds of emotions are associated with the behavioral - the automatic experience of our muscles in use?
9 What kinds of emotions are associated with the reflective - the thinking/decision making aspects of our being?
10. Think of the worst, ugliest, most difficult product you have ever used/experienced. Using the three different kinds of emotional experiences, what could you do to transform it?