Where (and when) to Iterate

I thought it would be worthwhile to talk a bit more about the Donald Norman thought I provided on Friday. Taken out of context, this quote would seem to imply that an iterative design methodology is a sure prescription for mediocrity. That would be an incorrect, and unfortunate, takeaway.

In order to understand Norman’s quote, we need a quick outline of his model of human cognition. First, we take in our external environment using two channels, one Visceral, which is the realm of things like looks, feel and smell; the other Behavioral, which is what allows us to create movement and take action. Operating on top of those channels is our Reflective processor, which Norman describes as the “… level that conscious and the highest levels of feeling, emotions, and cognition reside.” Most of what we call “branding” happens at the Reflective level.

Take the iPod. Viscerally, you love the shape, the heft, its intense whiteness, the chromed back, the feel of the controls – even the look of the advertising and packaging delights you. Behaviorally, the Click Wheel functions so intuitively that you can get to any of your 20,000 tunes in three clicks or less. Finally, at the Reflective level, you can’t imagine life without all that music on your hip, and the iPod fits your self image in a deep way. Norman’s Visceral-Behavioral-Reflective model of cognition explains nicely why Apple’s products just plain rock and we love the brand: great products fire at all levels of cognition.

What Norman is saying is that to create a product that works from a Behavioral standpoint, you must engage in iterative process of testing and revision. But if you apply that same iterative process to the Visceral and Behavioral components of the design, you’re mucking about with art and mystery, and at that point you’re well on the road to mediocrity.

If you want to create remarkable stuff, test test test to make sure it works, but leave the Visceral and Reflective elements up to your artists from Design and Marketing.

1 thought on “Where (and when) to Iterate

  1. Donald Norman’s Visceral-Behavioral-Reflective model of cognition

    Donald Norman’s excellent model and a nicely packaged perspective by Diego Rodriguez. It’s a shame they didn’t teach this in college.

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