So You Want To Be a Data Journalist: Attractive Things Work Better

I liked Donald Norman’s title for his chapter on emotional design, that I borrowed it.

Norman, who writes so well that I find it hard to believe he’s an academic, says that designs can make people emotional. “Attractive things make people feel good, which in turn makes them think more creatively.” Bold statement.

Norman argues that aesthetics encourage people to want to find solutions to the problems they encounter because they’re not as anxious if they’re in a positive emotional state.

Norman doesn’t entirely convince me. Attractive things work better? Isn’t it possible that they become more attractive when we know that they work because when they work we feel positive toward the item? There have been several data visualizations that I’ve seen this semester which were originally attractive but were confusing. Here’s one that a classmate mentioned:

It’s pretty to look at, but it doesn’t’ convey any relevant information to me because there isn’t enough detail that I can use to understand what the data says.

“Designers can get away with more if the produce is fun and enjoyable,” Norman says. “Things intended to be used under stressful situations require a lot more care, with much more attention to detail.”

Actually, I’d make a different case. Things that have to be under stressful situations should be simply designed so that the user doesn’t have to think about what to touch or how the item works. Simple things may not be pretty to look at it but at least it gives information right away.

As a journalist, for example, when I am on a tight deadline or covering a live event, I use a simple camera to take pictures rather than an imposing DLSR, where I need to switch the lens to get better shots or fix the lighting. Since I am not a photojournalist, I’m more concerned with taking a picture rather than the quality or artistic feel of my pictures at a chaotic event. Simple wins over aesthetics.

In another chapter, Norman mentions that people like Google because it’s a “playful” website compared to Yahoo, MSN, and other sites that “forgo any notion of fun, and instead present the straightforward results in an unimaginative, orderly way.”

He says that being fun is part of Google’s brand, which means that people like to use the website because it makes them feel good. That’s true, but it’s also because the site is simple to use and easy to navigate compared to the other search engines that used to be too cluttered in the 2000s.

Overall, I agree with Norman that emotional design is important. It helps to attract users and, as I said in a previous post, likely will encourage users to share the item (or in this case, data visualization) with their friends online.


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