The art of emotions. 3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman

Enhancing the emotional impact of the product experience through visceral, behavioral and reflex design.

To be a great designer, it s not enough just to understand how your users are reacting. You must understand why… Why are some users excited about the new dashboard while others are not? Why did user engagement drop after we updated the color palette? Why do some people share their experience, while others do not?

In his book Emotional Design, Don Norman explores three different levels of design that reflect people s emotional responses to visual experiences: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. This experience reflects our emotional connection with objects.


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Delight (long-term pleasure) is at the intersection of visceral, behavioral, and reflex emotional design (which we will look at next). It is imperative that designers understand that these emotional reactions are not accidental. They can be cultivated with a user-centered approach that delivers lasting and impressive value.

The art of emotions.  3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman

There is an internal hierarchy and a set of preconditions that must be met before we develop these emotional experiences. Before people can love an experience, they must first want it. This can be achieved through marketing or how you present the experience.

Then people need to be able to use the product and get the expected value. If this value is above average, then they will begin to trust the product and feel the need to use it.

Finally, people will love the product and share it with others if the experience triggers positive behavioral, intuitive, and reflex emotional responses.

The art of emotions.  3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman

We will now go over the basics of these levels and how they are applied in real life examples. We will also discuss these levels from a cognitive science perspective.

Emotional design elements

Emotional design can turn functional products into memorable and lasting experiences. This usually manifests itself through 4 aspects:

  • Emotion-memory connection – emotionally charged events are stored in our memory beyond the basic functional value of the product. We remember things that make us feel certain.
  • Aesthetic-usability effect – an aesthetically pleasing experience enhances usability and increases the user s desire to learn and adapt.
  • Convincing emotion – emotions allow users to make intuitive and quick decisions. We use cognition to understand and interpret our world, but our emotions drive decision-making.
  • Ownership effect – users place greater emphasis on experiences in which they feel personal ownership, as if the experience / product is an extension of themselves.

Visceral emotional design

The visceral response is triggered by initial sensory experience. This is the first impression that sets the mood and the basis for which you will explore everything else.

The art of emotions.  3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman
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Powerful and positive visceral responses have the following benefits:

  • They establish a positive context for each subsequent interaction.
  • Users are more likely to forgive future mistakes if the initial experience was overwhelmingly positive.
  • “Love at first sight” will contribute to the positive socialization of the product.

The unique ways in which products induce visceral reactions include playful and delightful learning for new users and successful states, which are usually carefully intertwined with motion design.

Visceral design includes the user s preconsciousness, the initial attractiveness of the product, and the user s overall experience.

The art of emotions.  3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman

These states become a way of expressing your product s brand and developing a relationship with the user.

Behavioral Emotional Design

Behavioral response is how we feel when immersed in an experience. This is how we respond to the interactions of our products and derive value from the products we use, which is also commonly known as usability.

Emotionally, when our interaction behavior is fluid, expected and familiar, we derive joy and satisfaction from the product s usability.

Behavioral design includes usability, product functionality, performance, and efficiency.

The art of emotions.  3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman
The art of emotions.  3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman
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Powerful and positive behavioral responses have the following benefits:

  • They allow users to experience an increase in their capabilities.
  • They develop trust and reliability by creating a direct link between user actions and expected value.
  • They encourage repetitive reactions, as people will want to experience this excitement again.

Reflective emotional design

A reflex response is what we feel after we are immersed in the experience. This is how we remember the experience itself and how it makes us feel. This determines whether we want to try the experience again or avoid it.

The art of emotions.  3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman

Powerful and positive reflex responses have the following benefits:

  • They encourage users to share their experiences with others.
  • They evoke a sense of pride and individuality from using a product that goes beyond the product itself.

In general, reflective emotional design reflects the value of the product, the influence of thoughts, the exchange of experiences and cultural influence.

Tips for Increasing Emotional Impact

To create delightful experiences, designers must develop appropriate and positive emotions for each level (visceral, behavioral, and reflex). Here are some tips for developing this positivity:

  • Personalization and customization – Personalize the user experience to give your users a sense of belonging. Allow users to tailor the experience as they expand and express themselves.
  • Expressive images – use photographs, illustrations and animation that your users can relate to – the visuals themselves can show emotion and help your users empathize.
  • Positive surprise – evoke positive emotional reactions, surprising your users with delight.
  • A voice that evokes a sense of close connection – Use a tone and voice that speaks to your users in a more human way. Express emotion, empathy, and support through a conversational interface.
  • Humor – Laughter and joy are very strong positive emotions that soften fear and insecurity, causing a feeling of joy.
  • Storytelling – Helps people understand how this experience goes, structure their interactions and remember their experience even after using the product.
  • Microinteractions – Subtle affordances and indicators make interfaces more lively and fun, which stimulates interaction.


Together, intuitive, behavioral and reflective emotional designs create a lasting and delightful product experience.

The art of emotions.  3 levels of emotional design by Don Norman

It is imperative that designers understand how emotional design encompasses the entire experience, from first discovering a product to using it and finally thinking about a product after using it.

It is not enough to cultivate the experience with “love at first sight”. This love must be eternal and enduring.

Thank you per reading!

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