Note: While reading a book whenever I come across something interesting, I highlight it on my Kindle. Later I turn those highlights into a blogpost. It is not a complete summary of the book. These are my notes which I intend to go back to later. Let’s start!

  • The story of the teapots illustrates several components of product design: usability (or lack thereof), aesthetics, and practicality.

  • The teapots also illustrate three different aspects of design: visceral, behavioral, and reflective.

  • Visceral design concerns itself with appearances. Here is where the Nanna teapot excels—I so enjoy its appearance, especially when filled with the amber hues of tea, lit from beneath by the flame of its warming candle.

  • Behavioral design has to do with the pleasure and effectiveness of use. Here both the tilting teapot and my little metal ball are winners.

  • Finally, reflective design considers the rationalization and intellectualization of a product. Can I tell a story about it? Does it appeal to my self-image, to my pride? I love to show people how the tilting teapot works, explaining how the position of the pot signals the state of the tea.

  • Whereas emotion is said to be hot, animalistic, and irrational, cognition is cool, human, and logical.

  • Several years ago, I was taking part in a radio show along with designer Michael Graves. I had just criticized one of Graves’s creations, the “Rooster” teapot, as being pretty to look at, but difficult to use—to pour the water was to risk a scalding—when a listener called in who owned the Rooster. “I love my teapot,” he said. “When I wake up in the morning and stumble across the kitchen to make my cup of tea, it always makes me smile.” His message seemed to be: “So what if it’s a little difficult to use? Just be careful. It’s so pretty it makes me smile, and first thing in the morning, that’s most important.” One side effect of today’s technologically advanced world is that it is not uncommon to hate the things we interact with.

  • Three different levels of the brain are: the automatic, prewired layer, called the visceral level; the part that contains the brain processes that control everyday behavior, known as the behavioral level; and the contemplative part of the brain, or the reflective level.

  • Now let’s look at some examples of these three levels in action: riding a roller coaster; chopping and dicing food with a sharp, balanced knife and a solid cutting board; and contemplating a serious work of literature or art. These three activities impact us in different ways. The first is the most primitive, the visceral reaction to falling, excessive speed, and heights. The second, the pleasure of using a good tool effectively, refers to the feelings accompanying skilled accomplishment, and derives from the behavioral level. This is the pleasure any expert feels when doing something well, such as driving a difficult course or playing a complex piece of music. This behavioral pleasure, in turn, is different from that provided by serious literature or art, whose enjoyment derives from the reflective level, and requires study and interpretation.

  • When activity is initiated from the lowest, visceral levels, it is called “bottom-up.” When the activity comes from the highest, reflective level, it is called “top-down” behavior.

  • The three levels can be mapped to product characteristics like this:
    • Visceral design > Appearance
    • Behavioral design > The pleasure and effectiveness of use
    • Reflective design > Self-image, personal satisfaction, memories, images of loved or respected ones.
  • In the early 1950s, the Betty Crocker Company introduced a cake mix so that people could readily make excellent tasting cakes at home. No muss, no fuss: just add water, mix, and bake. The product failed, even though taste tests confirmed that people liked the result. Why? An after-the-fact effort was made to find the reasons. As the market researchers Bonnie Goebert and Herma Rosenthal put it: “The cake mix was a little too simple. The consumer felt no sense of accomplishment, no involvement with the product. It made her feel useless, especially if somewhere her aproned mom was still whipping up cakes from scratch.” Yes, it was too easy to make the cake. Betty Crocker solved the problem by requiring the cook to add an egg to the mix, thereby putting pride back into the activity. Clearly, adding an egg to a prepared cake mix is not at all equivalent to baking a cake “from scratch” by using individual ingredients. Nonetheless, adding the egg gave the act of baking a sense of accomplishment, whereas just mixing water into the cake mix seemed too little, too artificial. Goebert and Rosenthal summarized the situation: “The real problem had nothing to do with the product’s intrinsic value, but instead represented the emotional connection that links a product to its user.” Yes, it’s all about emotion, about pride, about the feeling of accomplishment, even in making a cake from a prepared mix.

  • In the best of circumstances, the visceral reaction to appearance works so well that people take one look and say “I want it.” Then they might ask, “What does it do?” And last, “And how much does it cost?” This is the reaction the visceral designer strives for, and it can work.

  • Behavioral design is all about use. Appearance doesn’t really matter. Rationale doesn’t matter. Performance does.

  • Just as our experiences do not come neatly divided into unique categories of visceral, behavioral, or reflective, so films cannot be stuck neatly into one of three packages: visceral, or vicarious, or voyeuristic. Most experiences, and most films, cut across the boundaries. The best products and the best films neatly balance all three forms of emotional impact.They successfully capture the viewer at all three modes, with engaging visceral spectacles, an engrossing story for the vicarious, and enough depth and hidden metaphorical allusions to content the reflective voyeur.

  • Trust implies several qualities: reliance, confidence, and integrity. It means that one can count on a trusted system to perform precisely according to expectation. It implies integrity and, in a person, character. In artificial devices, trust means having it perform reliably, time after time after time. But there is more. In particular, we have high expectations of systems we trust: we expect them “to perform precisely according to expectation,” which, of course, implies that we have built up particular expectations.

  • The real power of IM isn’t the message (though that is a key attribute), but it’s the presence detection. Knowing that someone “is there.” Imagine knowing that every time you pick up the phone to dial someone there is going to be a real person to answer, and the person you want. That is

  • The real power of IM isn’t the message (though that is a key attribute), but it’s the presence detection. Knowing that someone “is there.” Imagine knowing that every time you pick up the phone to dial someone there is going to be a real person to answer, and the person you want. That is the power of instant messaging.

  • I predict that a conversation with real passengers will prove to be not as dangerous as one with far-away people, for the mental space we create for real passengers includes the auto and its surround, whereas the other one distances us from the auto. After all, we evolved to interact with others in the midst of other activities, but the evolutionary process could not anticipate communication at a distance.

  • Form should follow function.

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