Essays & Articles


The Emotional Eye (pun Intended): Introductions

Donald A. NormanCopyright © 2004 Donald A. Norman. All rights reserved.

Introductory column for InteriorMotives. July/August 2004

“I was wondering,” said Ryan Borroff, if you might be interested in contributing a column.”

“But I don’t work with automobiles — I’m in the high-tech industry,” I responded.

“Precisely why we want you,” he said, “someone from outside the industry.”

And so began my life as a columnist. I’m mostly known as a curmudgeon of design, railing against the complexity and unusability of today’s products, whether it be the computer, or the audio/visual “home theater,” or even the ever-increasing complexity of the mobile-cellular-text messaging-music playing-camera phone. I’m best known as the author of “The Design of Everyday Things,” which was mostly about mis-design. But I claim to have turned a new leaf, now emphasizing the good of products. I just published a book called “Emotional Design,” arguing that pleasure and beauty were of equal importance to function and usability. “Automobile designers understand this,” I said, which is what caught Ryan’s attention.

Ah, but automobiles are such a tempting target for the old me. Whether it is the interior of my Porsche, where changing the radio station while driving at high-speed at night, is a risky maneuver, or the vagaries of cruise controls that vary from brand to brand, with a signal that tells you when it is armed, but not when it is in control, or the world’s easiest target, the well-intentioned but incredibly ill-thought through iDrive of the BMW, but — oops — that is the old me. I promise you will hear from the old me as we do this series, but I’ll try to be the new me, talking about emotions and automotive interiors.

I travel a lot, which means I drive a lot of rental cars. I also spend a lot of time in the rear seat of cars, being chauffeured from one place to another, whether by a private car, which in the United states invariably means a Lincoln or, coming back, the Cadillac and in the rest of the world, a Mercedes, except in Hong Kong, where it is a Rolls Royce. During a recent visit to Toyota City, Japan, I was impressed with the rear seat accommodations of the Century, Toyota’s domestic equivalent of a top of the line Town Car: Rear seats that reclined, that had a central console between the two rear seats with controls for lights and, interestingly, to let me move the front passenger seat back and forth. But, my Japanese host informed me, this car is sold only in Japan and it is not meant to be driven, it is meant to be driven in, which is why they pay so much attention to the rear seat. Still, when I got home, I was pleased to discover that the brand new Lincoln sedan that met me at the airport had similar features. Hey! Now that’s nice.

So there is much to write about. And you can help. Write with suggestions. Tell me what I have missed, or where I have gone wrong.

Donald Norman is co-founder of the Nielsen Norman group, a psychologist/cognitive scientist/psychologist/design theorist who teaches at various universities and in his spare time writes books, including The Design of Everyday Things and Emotional Design: why we love (or hate) everyday