Emotional Design and Us

BDES 1201— Week 5

Today we will be diving in to two readings and divulging the meanings behind them and what it means for us. The two texts in question are “Three Teapots” by Donald Norman and Johnathan Woodham Chapter 3 in “Twentieth Century Design.” These readings address the place emotions hold in the realm of design, how emotional design plays into usability and the American age of Industrial design and culture.

“Three Teapots” explores the idea of the depth and meanings which we have for objects that go beyond the usability, such as teapots, like Norman mentions, we hold this importance and significance to the object. There are memories, stories, and impressions that are attached to objects that we have surrounded ourselves with in our lives. Humans have a reluctance to throw out broken items that they hold dear to their hearts because of these meanings we attach to them. Our emotions are a powerful thing, and they can lead one to act in an illogical manner, when it comes down to keeping things that no longer work. Logically, one should discard broken and unusable objects, this is precisely what emotional design tells us, how highly we regard our emotional attachments for things that go beyond functionality and the usability. We hoard these objectively seemingly broken or unimportant things to us, but what others do not see is the fine china that was passed down through generations, or a beautiful bracelet that no longer clips, that your closest friend gifted you all those years ago. “Beyond the design of an object, there is a personal component as well” (Donald A. Norman 6)

Norman’s explanations of his three teapots illustrate three different aspects of design: visceral, behavioural, and reflective. Norman states that these three aspects are all intertwined within design and that you cannot have design exist without them all together, they employ the use of emotions and cognition. Norman passionately explains how valuable our emotions are in everything we do, and that they play a large role in our cognition and often lead us to make irrational decisions at times, such as choosing an object for beauty rather than usability.

The Industrial age of design, the rapid advancement and growth of industrial and technological development in America post World War 1. This resulted in a boom of mass production of goods that launched America into this idolization of technology and modernity. Woodham writes about how these changes remodelled the principles of industrial design and production techniques such as streamlining, and how these changes brought us to where we are today. Design was focused on consumer cultures and popular aesthetics that were occurring during those times. The industry began focusing more on consumers’ needs and desires and this created better designs to be produced, and allowed for emotional value to be attached towards these designs. With the Postmodernism movement, industrial design began to embrace the usage of colour and took into consideration “the experience.”

Both texts take into consideration the experience and state the importance of consumer emotions and needs, although Norman seems to dive more in depth on the subject and explores the relationship of emotions and cognition, Woodham does share similar opinions. Woodham concentrates more on what industrial designers are, how they’ve changed over time, and how different influences pushed the modernization of what industrial design is today. I strongly align with Norman, and believe that emotions play such a great impact in everything we do and that at times they do cloud our judgement on what is best, and makes us overlook usability in the grips of beauty.

Questions to Ponder:

Where would design be today if we did not take emotions into account?

What would happen to the modernization of design if we did not have the Industrial revolution post war?

Works Cited

Norman, Donald. “Three Teapots.” Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things. New York, Basic Books, 2004, pp. 1–33.

Woodham, Jonathan M. Twentieth Century Design. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1997, Chapter 3

Words Count: 597




Student of the DXD program at George Brown.

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Maya Sonya Sowinski

Maya Sonya Sowinski

Student of the DXD program at George Brown.

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