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Authors: Donald A. Norman

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BOOK: Emotional Design
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The reflective design of today's games projects a product image that is consistent with the sleek powerful appearance of the console and the fast reflexes required of the player. This has to be changed. Advertisements should promote the device as a learning and educational tool for people of all ages. One form of console should continue to project the image of powerful game machine. Others should be positioned to be an intelligent guide to activities such as cooking or auto mechanics or woodworking. And others should be positioned as an aid to learning. Each with different appearances, different modes of operation, and different advertising and marketing messages.
Now imagine the outcome. The device that used to be specialized for the playing of video games takes on different appearances, depending upon its intended function. In the garage, the device would look like shop machinery, with a serious, rugged appearance, impervious to damage. It would serve as tutor and assistant, displaying automobile manuals, mechanical drawings, and short videos of the required steps to maintain or upgrade the auto. In the kitchen, it matches the décor of kitchen appliances and becomes a cooking aid and tutor. In the living room, it fits with the furniture and books and becomes a reference manual, perhaps an encyclopedia, tutor, and player of reflective games (such as go, chess, cards, word games). And for the student, it is a source of simulations, experiments, and extensive exploration of interesting, well-motivated topics, but topics carefully chosen so that, in the process of enjoying the adventure, you automatically learn the fundamentals of your field. Designs appropriate to the audience, the location, and the purpose. Everything I have described here is doable. It simply hasn't yet been done. . . .
Objects That Evoke Memories
True, long-lasting emotional feelings take time to develop: they come from sustained interaction. What do people love and cherish, despise and detest? Surface appearance and behavioral utility play relatively minor roles. Instead, what matters is the history of interaction, the associations that people have with the objects, and the memories they evoke.
Consider keepsakes and mementoes, postcards and souvenir monuments, such as the model of the Eiffel Tower shown in
figure 2.2
. These are seldom considered beautiful, seldom thought of as works of art. In the world of art and design they are called
kitsch
. This term of derision for the cheap and vulgar has been applied, says the
Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia
, “since the early 20th century to works considered pretentious and tasteless. Exploitative commercial objects such as
Mona Lisa
scarves and abominable plaster reproductions of sculptural masterpieces are described as kitsch, as are works that claim artistic value but are weak, cheap, or sentimental.” “Sentimental” means, according to the
American Heritage Dictionary
, “resulting from or colored by emotion rather than reason or realism.” “Emotion rather than reason”—well, yes, that is precisely the point.
Yogi Berra put it this way: “Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.” Or, translating this to design, “Nobody likes kitsch, it's too popular.” Yup. If too many people like something, there must be something wrong with it. But isn't that very popularity telling us something? We should stop to consider just why it is popular. People find value in it. It satisfies some basic need. Those who deride kitsch are looking at the wrong aspects.
Yes, the cheap reproductions of famous paintings, buildings, and monuments are “cheap.” They have little artistic merit, being copies of existing work, and poor copies at that. There is little intellectual depth, for the creativity and insight is part of the original, not the copy. Similarly, most souvenirs and popular trinkets are gaudy,
schmaltzy, “excessively or insincerely emotional.” But while this may be true of the object itself, that object is important only as a symbol, as a source of memory, of associations. The word
souvenir
means “a token of remembrance, a memento.” The very sentimentality the world of art or design derides is the source of something's strength and popularity. Kitschy objects of the sort shown in
figure 2.2
do not pretend to be art—they are aids to memory.
In the world of design, we tend to associate emotion with beauty. We build attractive things, cute things, colorful things. However important these attributes, they are not what drive people in their everyday lives. We like attractive things because of the way they make us feel. And in the realm of feelings, it is just as reasonable to become attached to and love things that are ugly as it is to dislike things that would be called attractive. Emotions reflect our personal experiences, associations, and memories.
FIGURE 2.2
A souvenir monument.
Although often denounced as “kitsch,” unworthy of being considered as art, souvenirs are rich in emotional meanings because of the memories they evoke.
(Author's collection.)
In
The Meaning of Things,
a book that should be required reading for designers, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Eugene Rochberg-Halton study what makes things special. The authors went into homes and interviewed the residents, trying to understand their relationship to the things about them, to their material possessions. In particular, they asked each person to show things that were “special” to him or her,
and then, in the extensive interviews, explored what factors made them so. Special objects turned out to be those with special memories or associations, those that helped evoke a special feeling in their owners. Special items all evoked stories. Seldom was the focus upon the item itself: what mattered was the story, an occasion recalled. Thus, one woman interviewed by Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton pointed to her living-room chairs and said: “They are the first two chairs me and my husband ever bought, and we sit in them and I just associate them with my home and having babies and sitting in the chairs with babies.”
We become attached to things if they have a significant personal association, if they bring to mind pleasant, comforting moments. Perhaps more significant, however, is our attachment to places: favorite corners of our homes, favorite locations, favorite views. Our attachment is really not to the thing, it is to the relationship, to the meanings and feelings the thing represents. Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton identify “psychic energy” as the key. Psychic energy, by which we mean mental energy, mental attention. Csikszentmihalyi's concept of “flow” provides a good example. In the flow state, you become so engrossed and captured by the activity being performed that it is as if you and the activity were one: You are in a trance where the world disappears from consciousness. Time stops. You are only aware of the activity itself. Flow is a motivating, captivating, addictive state. It can arise from transactions with valued things. “Household objects,” say Csikszentmihalyi and Rochberg-Halton, “facilitate flow experiences in two different ways. On the one hand, by providing a familiar symbolic context they reaffirm the identity of the owner. On the other hand, objects in the household might provide opportunities for flow directly, by engaging the attention of people.”
Perhaps the objects that are the most intimate and direct are those that we construct ourselves, hence the popularity of home-made crafts, furniture, and art. Similarly, personal photographs, even though they may be technically inferior: blurred, heads cut off, or fingers obscuring the image. Some may have faded, or be torn and
repaired with tape. Their surface appearance is less important than their ability to evoke the memory of particular people and events.
This point was vividly dramatized for me in 2002 when I walked through the exhibits on display at the San Francisco Airport. This is one of the world's most interesting museums—especially for people like me who are fascinated by everyday things, by the impact of technology upon people and society. This exhibition, “Miniature Monuments,” was about the role of souvenirs in evoking memory. The show displayed hundreds of miniature monuments, buildings, and other souvenirs. The items were not on display for their artistic quality, but to applaud their sentimental value, for the memories they evoked and, in brief, for their emotional impact upon their owners. The text that accompanied the exhibition described the role of souvenir monuments thusly:
The marvel of souvenir buildings is that the identical miniature sparks in each of us extravagantly different webs of remembrance.
While the purpose of all monuments is to cause us to remember, their subjects have a wide range. Great people and important events; wars and their casualties; and the history of Astoria, Oregon, are memorialized in the monuments represented in miniature.
These souvenirs serve two purposes, though. Even as a copperplated pot metal replica of Lincoln's Tomb in Springfield, Illinois, causes us to remember the sixteenth president, it also prods recollection of the monument itself. Monuments may remember significant people and events; architectural miniatures remember the monuments.
The architect Bruce Goff has remarked, “In architecture, there's the reason you do something, and then there's the real reason.” With souvenir buildings, despite their ostensible (if purposeless) functions, their real reason remains the provocation of human memory.
Those of us viewing these miniatures did not necessarily have any emotional attachment to the objects—after all, they weren't ours; they were collected and displayed by someone else. Still, as I strolled
around, I was most attracted to souvenirs of places I had myself visited, perhaps because they brought back memories of those visits. Had any one been emotionally negative, however, I would have quickly moved past it to escape—not the object but the memories it called forth in me.
 
PHOTOGRAPHS, MORE than almost anything else, have a special emotional appeal: they are personal, they tell stories. The power of personal photography lies in its ability to transport the viewer back in time to some socially relevant event. Personal photographs are mementos, reminders, and social instruments, allowing memories to be shared across time, place, and people. In the year 2000, there were about 200 million cameras in the United States alone, or around two cameras per household; with these cameras people took around 20 billion photographs. With the advent of digital cameras, it is no longer possible to know just how many pictures are being taken, but probably a lot more.
Although pictures are loved for the memories they maintain, the technologies of digital picture transmission, printing, file sharing, and display are sufficiently complex and time-consuming as to prevent many people from saving, retrieving, and sharing the pictures they cherish.
Numerous studies have shown that the work required to transform a picture in the camera into a print that can be shared defeats many people. Thus, while lots of pictures are taken, not all the film gets developed. Of the film that is developed, some of it is never looked at. Of the pictures that are looked at, many are simply put back into the envelope and then filed away in a box, never to be looked at again. (People in the photography industry call these “shoe boxes,” because the storage is often within the cardboard boxes in which shoes come.) Some people carefully arrange their pictures in photo albums, but many of us have unused photo albums stored in closets or bookcases.
One of the most precious resources of the modern household is time, and the effort to take care of all those wonderful photographs
defeats their value. Even though taking photographs out of an envelope and organizing them in photograph albums is about as simple a way of doing this job as can be imagined, most people don't do it. I don't.
Digital cameras change the emphasis, but not the principle. It is relatively easy to take digital photographs, easy to share them from the display on the camera itself. It is more difficult to print the pictures or email them to friends and acquaintances. Despite the power of the personal computer, paper prints of photographs are easier to take care of and display than are electronic versions. With electronic pictures comes the problem of storing them in some way that you can find them again later.
BOOK: Emotional Design
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