Emotional by design

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Talk to any software development shop and you will hear the terms “iterative development.” While there are many formal methods supporting iterative development processes, the commonality and rough translation is that software is prototyped, reviewed, revised, developed, reviewed, and revised and so on until declared “ready.”

Reading Norman’s Emotional Design reminded me of his earlier work proposing the value in iterative design. Most technology is built by technologists, hence the over-abundance of technological widgets and considerable lack of remarkable technology. Often, iterative development has nothing to do with iterative design. Iterative design should begin before iterative development. It can then overlap as the iterative development realizes the evolving design points. Finally, as the application nears completion, iterative design continues to influence resulting in both a technological and design winning outcome. There is no shortage of excuses for why most products never benefit from such design/development intertwining.

If you want a successful product, test and revise. If you want a great product, one that can change the world, let it be driven by someone with a clear vision. The latter presents more financial risk, but is the only path to greatness.

Donald Norman, Emotional Design, page 98

Iterative design is “design by committee” and while apt to please more people, often produces less than dazzling results. Norman suggests that visceral (universally appealing, pre-wired/pre-programmed) and reflective (more sophisticated, fashion and cultural trend sensitive) design is best lead by an individual with a clear vision. By logical conclusion, greatness is not derived through behavioral design. Assuming that the product delivers behaviorally (i.e. performs its intended function), game changing experiences employ design appealing to both the visceral and reflective sides of the end-user’s psyche.