Control room by Keenan Pepper used under Creative Commons Attribution License

“One side effect of today’s technologically advanced world is that it is not uncommon to hate the things we interact with”(Norman, 2004, p. 7). This quote captures the essence of both The Human Factor by Kim Vicente and Emotional Design by Donald Norman. Norman examines how we emotionally react to technology on the visceral, behavioral, and reflective level. He investigates the relationship between how users feel about a technology and its function. Vicente’s work looks at five behavioral factors: physical; psychological; team; organizational and political that effect how human beings interact with technology.  He observes that many technologies add to the difficulty of a task. Vicente’s model is embedded within Norman’s as can be seen in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Interrelationship Between the Design Models of Vicente and Norman (Click for full size).

Norman’s focus is the affective domain. He argues that “attractive things work better” (Norman, 2004, p. 17). If the user has a positive experience with a product they are more willing to troubleshoot problems as they occur. Positive affect improves the user’s creativity. At the visceral level we need to provide the user a positive work space with bright and highly saturated colours, symmetrical shapes, sounds that are soft and harmonic, and feedback including images of smiling faces (Norman, 2004, p. 29). At the behavioural level actions need to have predictable results, feedback needs to be clear and tangible, and function needs to be implicit in its appearance. At the reflective level technologies need to resonate with the user and provide an experience that generates stories, provides structures for social interaction, connects with strong memories, or reminds the user of significant people, places, or things.

Of Norman’s three levels, Vicente focuses on the behavioural. Vicente argues that we often forget to consider the user when designing technologies. We often mistake poor design for human error. “Usually, we blame ourselves. Shouldn’t we be able to grab the right control every time? After all, it’s a stove, not a nuclear power plant”(Vicente, 2003, p. 98). Whether referring to safety critical industries, such as hospitals and nuclear power plants, or everyday technologies we need to accept that people make mistakes and include that premise in our designs. Behaviour shaping constraints restrict operation to within defined outcomes. User interaction must provide immediate and salient feedback.

Both authors agree that the onus must be the usability of the technology instead of the user’s training. “There is no excuse not to design usable products that everyone can use” (Norman, 2004, p. 78 ). Educators are often provided difficult to use or time consuming technologies including grade books, student information systems and communication tools. The onus is placed on teacher training instead of good design. Vicente documents this issue in health care.   “Nurses choose their careers because they like to take care of people, not because they like to program complex computer-based medical devices or because they have a Ph. D. in computer science”
(Vicente, 2003, p. 34). This raises the question: within the budgets available to education systems is it possible to develop good quality software designed from both an affective and human-tech standpoint when they both require a costly iterative design process?

Norman, D. (2005). Emotional Design:  Why we Love (or Hate) Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.

Vicente, K. (2004). Human Factor:  Revolutionizing the Way We Live with Technology. London: Vintage.