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Product Design vs. Functionality: Which is more important?

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Nielsen Norman [professor of computer science, psychology and cognitive science at Northwestern University in Chicago and User Experience Architect" and fellow at Apple Computer in California and author of ground-breaking book, The Psychology of Everyday Things] in his book, "Emotional Design" posits that there are three levels at play in design: visceral, behavioral, and reflective.

It's still true that, on a rational level, products should be functional, but they should be beautiful and have an emotional impact as well, adding "I want products that are a joy to behold and a pleasure to use," he says. "We now know how to make products that work fine; how do we make products that make you smile?"

"Behavioral design is all about use," says Norman. "Appearance really doesn't matter: performance does." This is the area where The Design of Everyday Things was a huge success. Behavioral design is about getting products to function well, and about making that functionality easily accessible - an area where technology products often fall down. Some things are complicated, so users may still have to learn how something works. However, they should only have to learn it once, he says.

"Reflective design is about the meaning of things," says Norman. "It's about message: what does using this product say about you? It's where your self-image is. It depends on your age, background, culture." The reflective level is where things like brand image and marketing come into play, selling products not on their functionality but on things like prestige and exclusivity. Reflective design about creating things you want to show off to your friends. An example, on the cover of Emotional Design, is Philippe Starck's Juicy Salif, about which the designer reportedly said: "My juicer is not meant to squeeze lemons, it is meant to start conversations." Norman says he has one, "but I don't use it for squeezing lemons".

Do you feel, based on your own knowledge and or experience, coupled with Norman's explanation, that product functionality or the product design is the key to brand success?Why?

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Certainly a brand must function well but as Mr. Norman states in the prompt, "We now know how to make products that work fine," it is important in order to achieve business success to have a product that is well designed and able to become a part of the consumer's persona. The obvious example is Apple products: users buy into the design of the products, coupled with the functionality. Steve Jobs was a stickler for design and the feel of the product- including ...

Solution Summary

This solution discusses if product functionality or design is central to a product's success. It includes examples and links.

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Form versus Function

The argument of form versus function seems to come more into play with the more widespread use of credit by consumers which has helped to streamline the purchasing decision. With the massive expansion of the availability of credit since the 1970s people have been more likely to react on impulse and just buy what they want now and hope to be able to pay it off at some later date (Stavins, 2001). This highlights a perfect example of how marketers can tap into the "emotional power of design" (Keller & Kotler, 2012, p 332) and through this create a more rewarding experience for the consumer, but if consumers are not fully satisfied with how the product functions this could lead to dissatisfaction and ultimately buyer's remorse.

In my mind, this is an example of how many products are able to affect purchasing decisions with flashy packaging, but are not able to deliver on the actual functionality of the product. In most cases these types of products would be very easy to overcome by their competitors due to the lack of repeat business. A good example of this would be the Beats brand of headphones that have been shuffling around between many manufacturers and have really fancy packaging and design, but which many audiophiles consider to be not at all worth the excessive price and could help to explain why they have been shuffled around so much. In this case the brand image has not lived up to the hype and price tag of the item being sold and in the end your just paying for the name.

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