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3 design levels that build happy interfaces
Mar 19, 2018,

Last time we spoke about differences between UI/UX and what comes first, however, we’ve focused more on the usability and less on what makes a user come back to your interface, over and over again. In this article, we’ll focus on several factors that will help you “deal” your system’s UX among stakeholders and keep them hooked.

It all begins inside your customer’s mind

It’s no brain-cracker, your user’s desire is born inside its brain (particularly in the limbic system – a part of the brain where all of our emotions, memories and past experiences reside). That is why the success of your app, website or any piece of software is built around your user’s desire.

Emotions are the root of our decisions

The human brain has several areas responsible for what we feel. These comprise the limbic (emotional) system, that, according to Simon Sinek (a well know marketing consultant), drives our decision making.

Relating to the UX bible written by Don Norman (an academic in the field of usability engineering, design and cognitive science): “Emotional Design”, our emotional system consists of three distinct, yet tightly interconnected levels: the reflective, visceral, and behavioural level. Each of them influences our daily experience of the world and are the main decision drivers.

The reflective level

As Don Norman states, is “…the home of reflection, of conscious thought, of learning of new concepts and generalizations about the world” therefore, it is safe to assume this one relates to the way we see ourselves among others and how would the usage or acquisition of a product screen us among our peers.

The visceral level

Precepts unconscious human emotions, or those influenced by engraved, automatic and almost primitive qualities. This level runs out of our control and most of the time is related to core memories of a user. For instance, the emotions generated while using a retro PC or a vintage game-console, or an old form-factor phone (ghm… Nokia 3310) are processed by the visceral level and result in uncontrolled emotions.

The behavioural level

Processes emotions driven by controlled aspects of human action, where one might unconsciously analyze a situation in efforts of developing a goal or strategy, designed to be efficient in a short time-span, or with minimum efforts. In other words, the behavioural level processes emotions that make us do this:

Building “happy user interfaces presumes that all of the above, should be transposed and balanced into your product/ user interface design” – at least that’s what Don Norman states. To give us a better perspective on what to consider when building our “user experiences” and why we love (or hate) everyday things, he defined three aspects of design:

As expected, the Reflected Design level is representing our conscious thought layer, where we’re aware of our approach to a product/service or interface design; weighing up its pros and cons, measuring it up against our rational side, and looking into what it means to us as an individual. This level also considers environmental information (like how others see us, or how it changes our image within our inner circle) and influences our behaviour. No wonder the fashion industry is focused more on this design level.

Behavioural design (often referred to as usability), refers to the practical and functional aspects of a product. It is focused on how users carry out their activities, how quickly can a user achieve its objectives, how many errors he or she might make when carrying out certain tasks and how well the product accommodates both skilled and inexperienced users. Examples of experiences at the behavioural level include the pleasure driven by the ability of: finding a contact and making an immediate call within a CRM, or the ease of typing on a computer keyboard, and the enjoyment delivered by a well-designed computer game controller

Compared to the above, Visceral Design exploits our deeply-rooted, subjective, and automatic feelings. For instance: have you ever wondered why diners use red, yellow, orange, or green as their predominant colours? These are the inner workings of a Visceral Design approach. Unconsciously, we perceive food with excitement when there is variety, and so it happens that our visceral level has been trained to perceive the above-mentioned colours as appetizing and therefore, we chose brands based on their ambiences which trigger hunger and/or induce excitement.

These three levels combine to form the entire product/ user interface experience and are crucial in making your stakeholders happy. It is true though, building your product or interface around these three principles take lots of research and a deeper dive into how these work.

A good start-point is by reading Norman’s book: Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things which has been added to our company’s shelf back in 2011. For a quick overview of what the book see Dan Norman’ts TED Talk:

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