Foundations Of Cognitive Science

Behavioral Design

Norman (2004) argues that people process objects and devices at three different levels.  Visceral processing involves automatic, prewired, emotional responses: rapid judgments of good or bad. Behavioral processing involves brain processes that control everyday behavior, and can produce responses that are more sophisticated than can visceral processing.  Reflective processing involves reasoning and remembering, reflecting back on past experiences and actions, and evaluating them with the goal of planning future action.

Behavioral design is that component of design that aims at generating appropriate usage of a product; it makes the affordances (Gibson, 1979) of the product evident (Norman, 2002).  It is concerned with developing products that fulfill needs, and which are easy to use.  Issues about appearance, which are fundamental to visceral design, are not relevant to behavioral design.  “What matters here are four components of good behavioral design: function, understandability, usability, and physical feel” (Norman, 2004, p. 70).  These components must be conveyed in an accessible system model that the product conveys to the user.


  1. Gibson, J. J. (1979). The Ecological Approach To Visual Perception. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
  2. Norman, D. A. (2004). Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books.
  3. Norman, D. A. (2002). The Design Of Everyday Things.  New York: Basic Books.

(Added November 2010)