User Experience 2004, AmsterdamNielsenNormanGroup User Experience 2004 – Trip Report

Amsterdam, Nov 1-3, 2004

Expectation Design: The Next Frontier

Don Norman, talk at Main Event, Nov 3, 2004


Good designers already know how to make products attractive (visceral design) and how to appeal to self- and brand-image (reflective design). Good behavioral designers know how to make products usable and understandable–indeed, that's the focus of most of this conference. It's time now to turn our attention to pleasure and fun. Here, the challenge for designers is behavioral design, where expectations drive emotions. This is where hope and fear, and satisfaction and anger reside. Deliver on positive expectations and people experience pleasure. Deliver something different than expected, but equally satisfying, and people have fun. Fail to deliver, or leave people feeling out of control, and you get a wide range of negative emotions.

Expectation-driven design marks a new dimension for our discipline and provides a new framework for design. It shifts the emphasis from pure function to an emphasis on designs that both function well and offer people pleasure, enjoyment, a sense of accomplishment, and yes, even fun.

Some notes and highlights

Emotional Design

Don Norman defines the framework in his book Emotional Design. All human beings have three levels of processing in common: visceral, behavioral, and reflective.

The visceral level is fast: it makes rapid judgments of what is good or bad, safe or dangerous, and sends appropriate signals to the muscles (the motor system) and alerts the rest of the brain. This is the start of affective processing. These are biologically determined and can be inhibited or enhanced through control signals from above. The behavioral level is the site of most human behavior. Its actions can be enhanced or inhibited by the reflective layer and, in turn, it can enhance or inhibit the visceral layer. The highest layer is that of reflective thought. Note that it does not have direct access either to sensory input or to the control of behavior. Instead it watches over, reflects upon, and tries to bias the behavioral level.

The levels of human disposition map to different dimensions of product design. The following table gives a rough overview:

human disposition profession example
reflective intellectually driven brand/image Perrier table water
behavioral expectation driven usability water in plastic bottle
visceral perceptually driven graphic design a beautiful blue bottle that is used as a vase
Don got an email from a Japanese friend (sent from an airport):

my senpai says he’d really like some coffee. “i’ll wait till we get on the plane” he says. “coffee tastes better when someone pours it for u.”

Expectation Design

anticipated – surprised

confident – worried

anxious – relieved

hopeful – fearful

pleased – upset

praise – pride

blame – guilt

Example: Notification alert in MS Office Word saying, “The spelling check is complete.”
  • This is a positive message.
  • It is also an interruption that causes in itself anxiousness.

Today people feel relief when they are done with a task. This is a negative feeling. Instead we want them to feel good.

The Paradox of Choice

The correct number of items to offer is 3. Why that?
  • 20 is too much. People reject to make a choice at all.
  • But 3 (e.g.) washing machines with different properties and price tags works well. ”OK, I buy the one in the middle. It costs more than the lower cost version – but I can save some money compared to the expensive one!“


Usability wants to make things easy to use, not fun. Academia should start to study fun. [note the dimensions of pleasure, fun, and joy]

Incoming Links

Fear and Learning! by Jorgie, Dec 2008

Info and Web, 2009

à propos

3 Stages of Human Development, mprove 2001

Eine Arabeske über den Begriff der User Experience, mprove 2004