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Emotional Design


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Donald A. Norman is a cognitive scientist and cofounder of the Nielsen Norman Group, an executive consulting firm that helps companies produce human-centred products and services. His many books include The Design of Everyday Things, Things That Make Us Smart and The Invisible Computer. He lives in Illinois, USA.


Techno author Norman, a professor of computer science and cofounder of a consulting firm that promotes human-centered products, extends the range of his earlier work, The Design of Everyday Things, to include the role emotion plays in consumer purchases. According to Norman, human decision making is dependent on both conscious cognition and affect (conscious or subconscious emotion). This combination is why, for example, a beautiful set of old mechanical drawing instruments greatly appealed to Norman and a colleague: they evoked nostalgia (emotion), even though they both knew the tools were not practical to use (cognition). Human reaction to design exists on three levels: visceral (appearance), behavioral (how the item performs) and reflective. The reflective dimension is what the product evokes in the user in terms of self-image or individual satisfaction. Norman's analysis of the design elements in products such as automobiles, watches and computers will pique the interest of many readers, not just those in the design or technology fields. He explores how music and sound both contribute negatively or positively to the design of electronic equipment, like the ring of a cell phone or beeps ("Engineers wanted to signal that some operation had been done.... The result is that all of our equipment beeps at us"). Norman's theories about how robots (referred to here as emotional machines) will interact with humans and the important jobs they will perform are intriguing, but weigh down an already complex text. (Jan.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

"The book pops with fresh paradigms, applying scientific rigor to our romance with the inanimate. You'll never see housewares the same way again."

Norman (computer science, Northeastern Univ.) here expands on his earlier works (e.g., The Psychology of Everyday Things), advancing the idea that the emotional qualities of the things that surround us (largely products) have as much-or more-impact than their technical or logistical considerations and should be designed accordingly. Beginning at an elementary level (teapots and juicers), moving into cars and cell phones, and then settling on robots for the last several chapters, Norman effectively demonstrates that people have more rewarding relationships with the things in their lives that bring them joy to use than those that don't. While this may seem to be an elementary concept, the book is littered with familiar examples in which designers held such ideas in contempt or ignored them altogether. While the initial chapters are generally breezy and will appeal to a broader audience, the book tends to bog down at the end, where casual readers might find lengthy ruminations regarding their kitchen robot's ability to butter toast a tad esoteric. Recommended for academic libraries, particularly those with collections in robotics.-Phil Hamlett, Turner & Assocs., San Francisco Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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