Organizational and Emotional Communication


(Jac de Haan)

Our group was tasked with reading Don Norman’s, “Emotional Design: Attractive Things Work Better," and Clay Spinuzzi’s, "Exploring the Blind Spot: Audience, Purpose, and Context in ‘Product, Process, and Profit.’"  The first article discussed the theory of thought processing and how attractive design can influence perception and interaction.  The second article discussed the limitations of focusing on a theory of company to audience product communication while ignoring internal organizational dynamics.  To tie these articles together and provide a longitudinal learning opportunity for the class, we chose to fill out our presentation with a case study, a close examination of an organizational theory, and practical tips for effective communication within an organization.

Attractive Design

(Armin Ausejo)

Norman’s article provides theory and research to support the notion that attractive things work better. Norman asserts that happier thoughts lead toward a broadened mind, whereas anxious thoughts lead toward a narrowed mind.

His reasoning points to three distinct thought processes.  The first level, called visceral, is made up of instincts and motor functions, such as blinking, breathing, or the survival instinct.  The second level is the behavioral level, which is comprised of learned skills and tends to be unconscious, so they can work in the background.  Driving a car or playing the piano were examples used in the article, because both become skills we just go and do rather than taking the time to think about them.  The final thought process is the reflective level, which is where we as humans can look back at past experiences and communicate those to others.  An example of this is looking back at a piano recital and thinking about what mistakes the player might have made.

These thought processes each have a positive and negative affect state.  The negative affect state allows us to concentrate on a topic without distraction, but at the same time closes our mind to the big picture and is used instinctively to avoid danger.  This affect state is particularly used for technical things, so information should be clear since it’s the details on which a person has their full concentration.  On the other hand, the positive affect state is more relaxed, open to ideas, and creative, but more prone to distraction.  The open mindedness allows us to see the big picture and we are more willing to overlook minor issues if as a whole, we enjoy using or working with the particular product or design.

A Case Study

(Joe Hallock)

Many people feel that the software developers involved in a project are the only ones who have an impact on the outcome of the final product in terms of usability. Barbara Mirel writes in her article that social and political factors within the development group and outside the development group have an equally important part in the outcome of a software product. The political factors that often have an impact on the end product include, leadership conflicts, factional disputes, renegade efforts, alliances and betrayals.

Mirel asks a basic question: What does it take technically and organizationally to create breakthrough innovations in usability for computer supported complex tasks? She answers this question by listing a few technical and organizational factors that affect the development of a software product. Her list of item emphasizes the fact that it takes more than just technical factors to complete the product. The political forces, the management behaviors and even the economic decisions dictate how the development takes place.

Beyond Audience, Purpose, and Context

(Jac de Haan)

In Mirel’s article, the employees at her company had difficulty determining who was their audience, what was the purpose of the product, and what context would it be used in.  They also believed that the right answer to this Audience-Purpose-Context (APC) set of questions would guarantee success. Spinuzzi asserts that in the fight to answer the APC questions there was a blind spot that was being ignored – sociopolitical forces.


Spinuzzi argues that audience, purpose, and context are good tools to learn about communication, but that in real life application they fall short.  Purpose quickly falls apart as we realize that artifacts can be used in many different ways; for instance, a software manual may be used as such, but later will become a paperweight or a doorstop.  In Mirel’s case study, the concept of usability became a tool to define process, segregate groups, justify firings, dictate schedule and budgets, and solicit venture capital.

There must be a more effective way than APC to approach organizational product development that takes into account sociopolitical forces acting on the overall process.  Spinuzzi offers Activist Theory, Distributed Cognition, and Actor-Network Theory as possible candidates.  Our group found distributed cognition to be the most useful, and decided to explore this concept more fully.

Distributed Cognition

(J.J. Wright)

The complex interdependencies between people and their tools have expanded the definition of task knowledge to include connections between worker and tool.  The theory of distributed cognition emphasizes this relationship.

Our work environments have forces (identified in Spinuzzi’s article) that help shape our designs and foster their acceptance. As designers, we can hope to be aware of these forces and learn to embrace them.  Someone once described the idea of an organization as "how things get done around here.”  This idea applies to another article by Yvonne Rogers titled Distributed Cognition and Communication”. Rogers lists many outside processes that workers experience when doing tasks. Her thoughts point to how closely distributed cognition and an organization’s communication are to the tasks we do as technical communicators.  Being aware of these things makes workers more powerful in tasks and in efforts to get them accepted. Instead of just focusing on what one does, how one does it, and whom one does it for, one should pay attention to the ‘outside forces’ and communicate effectively.

McAdam’s article points out how Distributed Cognition doesn’t really help us challenge the “real” politics and power relations of our organizations. He also suggests we’re more susceptible to groupthink. Either way, distributed cognition does give us a way to better understand “the way things get done around here.”

Working within an Organization

(Tina Conley)

When internal teams work together to bring a product to fruition, it is important to be able to pitch ideas and solutions that benefit the company while positioning yourself as a key solution provider.

The right solution begins with the most dominant theme found in this program – KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!  (Integrating this idea within the framework of the above analysis allows us to view an audience as a fluid and fickle idea.) It is important to tailor the pitch to your audience’s needs and objectives rather than your own. Understand what is important to your boss. Is your boss concerned about financial implications, productivity, employee moral, etc…? After you determine what is prominent to your boss, begin to develop a pitch to demonstrate how your idea will help them improve their goals.

You boss will appreciate if you pitch an idea that is a no-brainer. When you pitch to your boss, be clear and concise, providing relevant details (that don’t mislead your audience) and be prepared for the questions that your boss might ask. Know the holes in your idea and reasons why it might not work, then develop responses to counter such questions. To help you with this, develop a S.W.O.T analysis for your idea and know the reasons why it might not work.

The pitch should start with your conclusion first, followed by supporting evidence and drive it home with the reasoning behind your claim. Don’t forget to include timing and financial implications if it’s important to you boss.  This will help you build a reputation as someone you researches their plans and ideas before frivolously throwing claims out with no reasoning. Before you know it, people will begin to trust that you’ve done your homework before you’ve pitched your idea thus empowering you to make decisions effectively.


(Jac de Haan)

Our group presentation began with the theory behind why humans find certain designs easier to use than others, discussed practical application of theory in the workplace, examined the limitations of the APC model in real organizations, proposed the model of distributed cognition within workplace communication, and suggested ideas for internal selling.  Because there were only six class members present to witness the presentation, discussion afterwards was fairly short.  Fang and Claire commented on how organizational communication in Eastern culture is similar to the Western view we presented, presumably because many of the professors and business people in the software industry were trained in the United States.

With Love,

Jac, Joe, J.J., Armin, & Tina


Don Norman, “Emotional Design, Attractive Things Work Better" (eReserve)

Barbara Mirel, "Product, Process, and Profit – The Politics of Usability in a Software Venture” (ACM)

Clay Spinuzzi, "Exploring the Blind Spot: Audience, Purpose, and Context in ‘Product, Process, and Profit’" (ACM)

Yvonne Rogers, “Distributed Cognition and Communication”

R McAdam, “Knowledge creation and idea generation: a critical quality perspective”
Technovation. Amsterdam: Sep 2004.Vol.24, Iss9;  pg. 697. (Proquest)

Ted Pollock, “How to Sell Your Idea” Automotive Design and Production.

Michael Hyatt, “Working Smart: How to Sell Your Boss”

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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