Don Norman vs. Herbert Read - interaction and visual design

Emotion vs. function


In this article I try to figure out my main trail. I try to get hold of the binding factor of interaction and visual design. In my previous article (Emotion gives direction to the design research) I wrote that it could be that emotion was the binding factor. I also stated that, in my opinion, it cannot only be emotion that is the binding factor. I then started reading Herbert Read, someone who puts function above emotion.

Therefore I try to form an opinion in this article, about what is more important to me: emotion or function. To this end, I try to understand the visions of both Don Norman and Herbert Read. Two persons who are pioneers in the designing world.

Herbert Read

Herbert Read is a poet, art philosopher and art critic. In the early twentieth century he wrote numerous books on art and aesthetics. He was editor of the Burlington Magazine (a critical magazine on contemporary art), he was a curator of the Victoria & Albert Museum and he was co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts.

Read, is a big believer of function, Read is what you can call a real modernist. Modernism is about discovering ways of finding new art(forms). It is mainly about redefining art. This trend developed abstract art.

In his book Art and industry[1] he writes: “In general, there is nothing we make and use that does not engage our senses in the performance of some organic function. Even if there is no physical contact with manufactured things, we must look at them, and the eye itself is an organ subject to organic laws of perception: to reactions, however subtle, of pleasure and pain. We may therefore conclude that the organic principle is basis to all our activities, that we design relation to bodily functions.”

Herbert Read was also someone who came from a period of mass production. A period in which an artist designed products that then could be consumed by the mass. Inside this method, Read believed that the factory had to adapt to the artist and not the other way around.

Herbert Read

Don Norman

As I described in my previous article, Don Norman is Director of The Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, and is renowned for his expertise in design, usability, and cognitive science (he wrote numerous articles on these subjects). He is also co-founder and adviser at the Nielsen Norman Group.

In contrast to Read, Norman is about combining emotion, story and function. And he is what you call a postmodernist. Postmodernism is a reaction to modernism and is about questioning existing stories of religion, politics, science and art. It is based on reflection, possibilities and progress.

Norman gives us a beautiful example of this in his book Emotional design[2]. Here he addresses three different aspects when talking about emotion (you can find this in my previous article: Emotion gives direction to the design research). One of these aspects is the reflective aspect, what stories can I tell a about a product? And takes his three teapots as an example. They are not all functional, but he can tell a nice story about them.

Teapost - Don Norman


Another example of his postmodernism comes to light in his conversation with the men from[3]. Here he says that we always doubt the truthfulness. There must be a conversation, because only then, we can become smarter. When talking about emotion he says, in this podcast, that they are generated by different systems in the brain with different time mechanisms that also start in different ways.

All this relates to someone who comes from a period where the user is the focus point. If a consumer (user in this case) cannot find what he/she is looking for, they will go online to produce what they want.

Don Norman


I believe that both emotion and function play an important part in the design process. Although emotion has become more relevant in the 21st century, and Norman is therefore more relevant, I think we are aware of the basics where we design for and we do not forget that what we design will always relate to our body functions (as Read says). I am interested in how we give emotions to functional objects. This is something I want to investigate further.

Overview research

After I had spoken to my coach, I now sorted my trails differently. The main trail must investigate the binding factor between interaction and visual design. Here is where I am looking into emotion and the overarching aspect. My side trail will look into what a good flow is. These two trails should lead to possible follow-up steps. I will leave the second side trail (Other sectors, Gaming, Product, Artificial Intelligence) for what it is, for now.

[1] Read, Herbert, and Herbert Edward Read. Art and industry: the principles of industrial design. Faber and Faber, 1966.

[2] Norman, Donald A. Emotional design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things. Basic books, 2004.

[3] Design doing with Don Norman (Part 1) – april 15, 2016 – en Design doing with Don Norman (Part 2) – april 22, 2016 –

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