Reflective design is about the meaning of things

Nielsen Norman [professor of computer science, psychology and cognitive science at Northwestern University in Chicago and User Experience Architect” and fellow at Apple Computer in California and author of ground-breaking book, The Psychology of Everyday Things] in his book, “Emotional Design” posits that there are three levels at play in design: visceral, behavioral, and reflective.

It’s still true that, on a rational level, products should be functional, but they should be beautiful and have an emotional impact as well, adding “I want products that are a joy to behold and a pleasure to use,” he says. “We now know how to make products that work fine; how do we make products that make you smile?”

“Behavioral design is all about use,” says Norman. “Appearance really doesn’t matter: performance does.” This is the area where The Design of Everyday Things was a huge success. Behavioral design is about getting products to function well, and about making that functionality easily accessible – an area where technology products often fall down. Some things are complicated, so users may still have to learn how something works. However, they should only have to learn it once, he says.

“Reflective design is about the meaning of things,” says Norman. “It’s about message: what does using this product say about you? It’s where your self-image is. It depends on your age, background, culture.” The reflective level is where things like brand image and marketing come into play, selling products not on their functionality but on things like prestige and exclusivity. Reflective design about creating things you want to show off to your friends. An example, on the cover of Emotional Design, is Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif, about which the designer reportedly said: “My juicer is not meant to squeeze lemons, it is meant to start conversations.” Norman says he has one, “but I don’t use it for squeezing lemons”.

Do you feel, based on your own knowledge and or experience, coupled with Norman’s explanation, that product functionality or the product design is the key to brand success? Why?

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