Blog: Secrets from the Chef

Donald Norman’s Three Aspects of Design

Yegor GilyovAuthor: Yegor Gilyov
11 February 2006

A couple of hours ago, on the Olympia Stadium, Turin, the Flame of the XX Winter Olympics was ignited. Now that’s a good point to recall the pictograms which go beyond computer interfaces. Traditionally, every Olympic Games have a unique set of pictograms representing various sports. This is how we have a brilliant opportunity to look at different approaches to one and the same task of design.

In his book “Emotional Design” Donald Norman speaks about three aspects of design: visceral, behavioral and reflexive.

Visceral design got its name not because the designer works subconsciously. It is about the customer’s intuition. Visceral design deals with basic, biological preferences which have been created in the course of human evolution. If we say something looks pretty, it is in most cases the work of the visceral level. The design of this Olympiad in Turin is a good example of visceral design.The official pictograms are white against a blue background, but let’s have a look at the Sports and Athletes section of the Games web site. There we can see their true colours:

Freestyle Skiing   Short Track   Ice Hockey

They are fire, water and flowers. Your heart jumps for joy! And your head is taking a rest.

Behavioral design’s cornerstones are expedience, functionality and usability. What does it mean when it comes to pictograms? Convey the maximal clarity of the visual message by the minimal graphical means. We don’t need to go too far to get the example. Let’s go 26 years back and have a look at the Summer Olympics of 1980:

Soccer   Swimming   Cycling

Those who are interested can refresh their memory by seeing the whole set of the Moscow Olympic Games pictograms at the Pictomania (in Russian) web site. There only remains for me to subscribe to Sergey Novikov’s opinion: these pictograms are a masterpiece of info-graphics.

Reflexive design usually brings some second (third and fourth) meaning. It is intended to arouse your reminiscences, associations and feelings: not the intuitive ones but conditioned by the culture and mentality. Let’s look at the pictograms of the latest Summer Olympics in Athens:

Athletics   Archery   Equestrian

These are not just images of the athletes. These are the crocks of the ancient Greek pottery. The designers didn’t miss their chance to delicately remind everyone that Greece is not only one of the poorest EU countries but also the cradle of the European civilization.

Of course, any kind of design, especially of good design, does not completely disregard any single one of those aspects. It works in all three dimensions. However, the given examples show us that the clearly set priorities help achieve outstanding results.

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