Norman, Postrel & Three Levels of Design

by March 17, 2004

In a recent Guardian interview, Don Norman discussed the three levels at play in design: visceral, behavioral, and reflective.

Visceral design is about how things look, feel, and sound. Behavioral design is about getting products to function well, and about making that functionality easily accessible. Reflective design is about the meaning of things, about message and becomes more important as products mature. In the early days, it may be a struggle to get something to work well - the first cars, and the first computers. But when you can take functionality for granted, how do you choose between different products?

It's still true that, on a rational level, products should be functional, but now he explains why they should be beautiful and have an emotional impact as well. Norman’s three levels are mirrored by Virginia Postrel:

First, let's talk about what are the sources of value in a designed object. There are basically three of them: one is function, one is meaning, and one is pleasure. Function is important and is increasingly assumed, but it is not the differentiator. It used to be that both in culture and in business the emphasis was on function. Designers were brought in at the end of the process essentially as stylists. Now, while the function still has to be there, it is an expectation rather than a differentiator. The added value will come from meaning and pleasure, what I call aesthetics, the look and feel.