How can Norman’s 3 levels of design help the User Experience?

Influence of Norman’s 3 levels of design
Influence of Norman’s 3 levels of design

“Good Design touches you, Great Design touches your soul” — Onur Mustak Cobanli

he 3 levels of Design is a concept introduced by none other than, Don Norman, who is one of the greatest influential people in the design community. In his book on Emotional design, he explores the idea about the 3 levels of experiences for a user which can be triggered by 3 different levels of design. Emotional design is a very important aspect which we, as designers already know. For a user to have a great user experience, emotional design is an area which we use. When a design hits the user on an emotional level, they remember the various aspects of the design which makes the user come back to the product.

“Everything has a personality: everything sends an emotional signal. Even where this was not the intention of the designer, the people who view the website infer personalities and experience emotions.” — Don Norman

Emotions are an important influence on a product
Emotions are an important influence on a product
Emotions are an important influence on a product

Emotions are the outcome of changes in our psychophysiology, which are most frequently caused by events in our surroundings. Our emotional state is continuously changing as a result of the stimuli we get from our surroundings. According to Don Norman, our emotional state influences the value we gain from a product as well as our experience. In the book written by Don Norman, Emotional Design: Why we love(or hate) everyday things, he explains how the different levels of the emotional system influence in its own specific ways. These different levels are responsible for 3 different levels of design which are,

  1. Visceral Design
  2. Behavioral Design
  3. Reflective Design
Process of Norman’s 3 levels of Design
Process of Norman’s 3 levels of Design
Process of Norman’s 3 levels of Design

First, let’s see which each of these levels mean,

1. The Visceral Design

The visceral level of design concerns itself with appearances. It is where the user will have instinctive feelings about the first impression of a design which are unconscious and automatic. The visceral level of the design evokes instant and strong responses. When designing at a visceral design level you should tap into the users’ attitudes, beliefs and feelings. As this design level is about the first impression the user will have, you must aim to get into the user’s mind and play with their feelings in order to either enhance the user experience or satisfy a business need.

Using a product at the visceral level of design
Using a product at the visceral level of design
Using a product at the visceral level of design

Source: Norman’s Three Levels of Design by Andreas Komninos

2. The Behavioral Design

Behavioral Design mostly has to do with pleasure and effectiveness of use. In this level of design, the users are more concerned with the usability of the design therefore the thought process of the user is conscious. When designing for the behavioral design level you must think about how the users carry out their activities and design in a way that would easily lead the users to their end goal. As you know, users will not only accomplish their tasks but would also fail to achieve their required tasks at times. So, you must also consider the emotions the users would feel after accomplishing their task as well as when they fail and you must consider both these aspects and handle the users’ activities. Good usability will have a thoughtful flow process within the design.

Love using the product due to the behavioral level of design
Love using the product due to the behavioral level of design

Source: Norman’s Three Levels of Design by Andreas Komninos

3. The Reflective Design

This level of design also works on the conscious thought process of the user just like in Behavioral design. The reflective design considered rationalization and intellectualization of a product. After interacting with a certain product, users will judge its performance, benefits, and value for money. This level is the most important as this is where the user will decide if they will keep using the product or abandon it for something better.

Love using the product due to the behavioral level of design
Recommending the product to others

The emotional bond that is created with the product at this level is the foundation for them to keep using the product and get others involved with the product too. Users will put up with difficulties and shortcomings of usability of a product because they will believe that they will gain other nonfunctional benefits from it.

For example, Apple’s smartwatch, the first release of the Apple Watch had many usability issues and it was disliked by many users. It had many usability issues such as tiny targets in the screen, gesture implementation issues, and standalone contents but despite the issues Apple Watch displayed, it ended up becoming the second-largest worldwide sales of the watch industry within the first year of selling!

Source: Emotional Design by Interaction Design Foundation, Are You Aware Of These Early Problems With Apple Watch? by TeksMobile, The Apple Watch: User-Experience Appraisal by Raluca Budi, Apple Watch second only to Rolex in worldwide sales, but what does it mean? by Ilya Ryvin

How are these 3 levels are interlinked?

Norman’s 3 levels of Design
Norman’s 3 levels of Design

Each level is interlinked with each other to provide a good user experience for the user. The end result of all these 3 levels of design is the User Experience.

When a user comes across a product, the first level of design which should be considered is the visceral level. The users’ instinct and gut reaction to the design is the foundation of the user’s experience with the product.

Secondly, when the user is interacting with the product, the behavioral level of design must be used. The user will evaluate how the design solution helps them achieve their end goal and how easily it is to complete their required tasks.

Finally, in the reflective level, after the user is done interacting with the product, the user will consciously judge the benefits and the performance of it and decide whether to keep using it and recommend it to others.

Therefore, each level of the flow of a user interacting with the product is interlinked to provide the best user experience. The 3 levels of design must be separately thought of and each level of design must be accomplished.

Let's take an example for this process and see,

Imagine a situation where a person is going to buy a luxurious car like the Lamborghini. At a glance as soon as this person sees a car they like, they would want to buy it.

This is the instinctive feeling the person gets in the first impression which is what we should consider at the Visceral level of design.

Next, after this person buys the car, if the car is performing really well and he enjoys driving the car, he would feel good about the purchasing decision he made. He would use the car whenever possible despite any shortcoming because of the emotional attachment to it.

This feeling is what we should expect as an outcome when designing at the level of behavioral. We should design a product with which the user would enjoy interacting with and lets them achieve their target easily despite any shortcomings.

After using the car and due to the emotional attachment he has build to it, he will definitely recommend it to his friends and persuade them to buy the same car later on.

When the product is amazing, the user will always find a reason to keep it around and come back to it. This is where we should focus on the reflective level of design.

Conclusion

Now that we see how each level can be used at its best when creating a design, it's your turn to start using this concept! Emotional design is the key to a good user experience and this has the power to make sure that the user will keep on using the product for a long time. The 3 levels of design can be a helpful concept to create a product that all users will love.

A UX designer & UI developer who also has a passion for music. Enjoy capturing moments with a click. spend leisure time by creating videos.