The Three Levels of Design: Visceral, Behavioral and Reflective

So I have recently bought this baby mobile, as the very first item to decorate our future nursery. However, it is not very practical, as it is very fragile as the baby will most likely break it, if getting in any sort of contact with it. But, I liked the way it looks and thought it will look cute in a nursery. So how can this happen, why would I buy something so unpractical?

To understand this purchase and products in general, Don Norman (2004) proposes three aspects of design that interweave emotions and cognition: visceral, behavioural, and reflective. These three terms are found useful, as it can cast a light upon why the emotional site of products, might be more critical to succeed with a product, rather than the practical elements of it. Firstly, the first level visceral design is about the more intuitive behaviour, for instants if you feel something is pretty, it comes from the visceral level and deals with the look, feel and touch (Norman, 2004). Secondly, the behavioural level, only considers the use of a product and focuses on satisfying people’s needs. But, one should keep in mind that both visceral and behavioural reactions are subconscious which makes us unaware of the true reactions and causes hereof (ibid). Therefore, even though I try to understand the reasoning behind the purchase I did, it is intuitive and subconscious, so the real cause of it cannot be uncovered completely, but gives reasoning to understand the cause behind it. Lastly there is the reflective level, which often determines a person’s overall impression of a product. As Norman (2004) states “The reflective value outweighs the behavioral difficulties” (Norman, 2004 p. 85) therefore it can be hard to judge whether someone would by a product if not having a practical reason for it, but why else would someone buy a painting only to hang on the wall? This is as the overall experience of it; is where other aspects of the product can outweigh inadequacies.

In my case at this purchase it was mainly controlled by the visceral level, as I found it pleasing to look at, however the reflective level also must have been taken into account, as it in some level affects my reflective image. I would like to have a presentable home, when people come to visit, so even though the behavioural level did not play a big role in this purchase, in terms of the functionality of the product, or lack hereof, I chose to buy it anyway.

Norman, Donald A (2004). Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. Basic Civitas Books, chapter 3.