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Authors: Donald A. Norman

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Thus, although we like to look at photographs, we do not like to take the time to do the work required to maintain them and keep them accessible. The design challenge is to keep the virtues while removing the barriers: make it easier to store, send, share. Make it easier to find just the desired pictures years after they have been taken and put into storage. These are not easy problems, but until they are overcome, we will not reap the full benefits of photography.
Portraits of family, though, are different. Wander through many places of work, and you'll see on desk, bookcase, and walls framed photographs of a person's family: husband, wife, son, daughter—family portraits, family snapshots—and occasionally parents. Yes, there are also ceremonial pictures of the person with the company president or other dignitaries, pictures of awards, and, in academic offices, conference photographs, where all the participants have gathered together sometime during the conference for the ritual photograph, which ends up published in the conference proceedings and posted on walls.
But, I hasten to add, this personal display is very culture-sensitive. Not all cultures display such personal symbols. In some countries, the display of personal photographs in the office is extremely rare, and in the home it can be infrequent. Instead, visitors are shown the photograph album, with each photograph lovingly pointed at and described. Some cultures prohibit photographs altogether. Still, the major
nations of the world on all continents take billions of photographs, so that even if they are not on public display, they serve a powerful emotional role.
Photographs are clearly important to people's emotional lives. People have been known to rush back into burning homes to save treasured photographs. Their comforting presence maintains family bonds even when the people are separated. They assure permanence of the memories and are often passed from generation to generation. In the days before photography, people hired portrait painters to create images of loved or respected ones. The task required long sittings and produced more formal results. Painting had the virtue that the artist could change people's appearance to fit their desires rather than be restricted to the reality of the photograph. (Nowadays, with digital tools readily available, photographs, too, are easily doctored. I plead guilty to altering a family group photograph, replacing the scowling face of one family member with a happy, smiling face from a photograph of that person at a different occasion. Nobody has ever noticed the modification, not even the person who was modified.) Today, even with the ubiquity of personal cameras, portrait photographers maintain a lively business, in part because only professionals usually have the skills required for lighting and framing the shot so as to produce a high-quality picture.
Photographs can bring back only sights, not sounds. David Frohlich, a research scientist at the Hewlett Packard Laboratories in Bristol, England, has been developing a system he calls “audiophotography,” photographs that combine an audio track, capturing the sounds on the scene surrounding the instant when the picture was taken. (Yes, the recording can start before the photograph is taken, one of the magical possibilities of modern technology.) Amy Cowen, who wrote about Frohlich's work, described its importance this way: “With every photo there is a story, a moment, a memory. As time passes, however, the user's ability to recall the details needed to evoke the moment the picture records fades. Adding sound to a photo can help keep the memories intact.”
Frohlich points out that today's technology allows us both to capture the sounds occurring around the time a photograph is being taken and also to play them back while it is being shown in an album. The sounds capture the emotional setting in a far richer way than can the image itself. Imagine a family group photograph where, in the twenty seconds prior to the taking of the picture, the voices of family members joshing among themselves (“Mary, stop scowling” and “Henry, quick, stand between Frank and Uncle Oscar”) are also recorded—possibly followed by giggling and relief in the twenty seconds after the photo was taken. Frohlich describes the possibilities this way: “Ambient sounds recorded around the moment of image capture provide an atmosphere or mood that can really help you remember the original event better. Nostalgic music set to a photo can evoke more feelings and memories of the era in which the photo was taken, and a spoken story can help others to interpret the meaning of the photo, especially in the absence of the photographer.”
Feelings of Self
Memories reflect our life experiences. They remind us of families and friends, of experiences and accomplishments. They also serve to reinforce how we view ourselves. Our self-image plays a more important role in our lives than we like to admit. Even those who deny any interest in how others view them actually do care, if only by making sure that everyone else understands that they don't. The way we dress and behave, the material objects we possess, jewelry and watches, cars and homes, all are public expressions of our selves.
The concept of self appears to be a fundamental human attribute. It is difficult to imagine how it could be otherwise, given what we know of the mechanisms of mind and the roles that consciousness and emotion play. The concept is deeply rooted in the reflective level of the brain and highly dependent upon cultural norms. It is, therefore, difficult to deal with in design.
In psychology, the study of the self has become a big industry, with books, societies, journals, and conferences. But “self ” is a complex concept: It is culturally specific. Thus, Eastern and Western notions of self vary considerably, with the West placing more emphasis on the individual, the East on the group. Americans tend to want to excel as individuals, whereas Japanese wish to be good members of their groups and for others to be satisfied with their contributions. But even these characterizations are too broad and oversimplified. In fact, on the whole, people behave very similarly, given the same situation. It is culture that presents us with different situations. Thus, Asian cultures are more likely to establish a sharing, group attitude than are the cultures of Europe and the Americas, where individualistic situations are more common. But put Asians in an individualistic situation and Europeans or Americans in a social, sharing situation, and their behaviors are remarkably similar.
Some aspects of self seem to be universal, such as the desire to be well-thought-of by others, even if the behavior others praise differs across cultures. This desire holds both in the most individualistic societies, which admire deviance, and in the most group-oriented societies, which admire conformance.
The importance of other people's opinions is, of course, well known to the advertising industry, which tries to promote products through association. Take any product and show it alongside happy, contented people. Show people doing things that an intended purchaser is likely to fantasize about, such as romantic vacations, skiing, exotic locations, eating in foreign lands. Show famous people, people who serve as role models or heroes to the customers, to induce in them, through association, a sense of worthiness. Products can be designed to enhance these aspects. In clothing fashion, one can have clothes that are neat and trim or baggy and nondescript, each deliberately inducing a different image of self. When company or brand logos are imprinted on clothes, luggage, or other objects, the mere appearance of the name speaks to others about your sense of values. The styles of objects you choose to buy and display often reflect public opinion as
much as behavioral or visceral elements. Your choice of products, or where and how you live, travel, and behave are often powerful statements of self, whether intended or not, conscious or subconscious. For some, this external manifestation compensates for an internal, personal lack of self-esteem. Whether you admit it or not, approve or disapprove, the products you buy and your lifestyle both reflect and establish your self-image, as well as the images others have of you.
One of the more powerful ways to induce a positive sense of self is through a personal sense of accomplishment. This is one aspect of a hobby, where people can create things that are uniquely theirs, and, through hobby clubs and groups, share their achievements.
From the late 1940s through the mid-1980s the Heathkit Company sold electronic kits for the home handyperson. Build your own radio, your own audio system, your own television set. The people who constructed the kits felt immense pride in their accomplishments as well as a common bond with other kit builders. Putting together a kit was a personal feat: the less skilled the kit builder, the more that special feeling. Electronic experts did not take such pride in their kits; it was those who ventured forth without the expertise who felt so satisfied. Heathkit did an excellent job of aiding the first-time builder with what, in my opinion, were the best instruction manuals ever written. Mind you, the kits were not much less expensive than equivalent commercial electronic devices. People bought the kits for their high quality and for the feeling of accomplishment, not to save money.
In the early 1950s, the Betty Crocker Company introduced a cake mix so that people could readily make excellent tasting cakes at home. No muss, no fuss: just add water, mix, and bake. The product failed, even though taste tests confirmed that people liked the result. Why? An after-the-fact effort was made to find the reasons. As the market researchers Bonnie Goebert and Herma Rosenthal put it: “The cake mix was a little too simple. The consumer felt no sense of accomplishment, no involvement with the product. It made her feel useless, especially if somewhere her aproned mom was still whipping up cakes from scratch.”
Yes, it was too easy to make the cake. Betty Crocker solved the problem by requiring the cook to add an egg to the mix, thereby putting pride back into the activity. Clearly, adding an egg to a prepared cake mix is not at all equivalent to baking a cake “from scratch” by using individual ingredients. Nonetheless, adding the egg gave the act of baking a sense of accomplishment, whereas just mixing water into the cake mix seemed too little, too artificial. Goebert and Rosenthal summarized the situation: “The real problem had nothing to do with the product's intrinsic value, but instead represented the emotional connection that links a product to its user.” Yes, it's all about emotion, about pride, about the feeling of accomplishment, even in making a cake from a prepared mix.
The Personality of Products
As we have seen, a product can have a personality. So, too, can companies and brands. Consider my proposed transformation of the video game device discussed earlier in this chapter. In one version, the machine would be a fast, powerful tool for exciting, visceral experiences: loud booming sounds and fast-paced adventure. In a different version, it would be a cooking assistant: animated, but informative, with menus for meals and videos that demonstrate just how to prepare the food. In still another, it might be calm, but authoritative, guiding repair work on an automobile or construction of woodworking projects.
In each manifestation, that product's personality would change. The product would look and behave differently in the different settings appropriate to use and target audience. The style of behavioral interaction could differ: filled with slang and informal language in the game setting; polite and formal for the kitchen. But like human personality, once established, all aspects of a design must support the intended personality structure. A mature cooking tutor should not suddenly start spouting obscenities. A shop assistant should probably not discuss the philosophical implications of quality in automobile
design, quoting from R. M. Pirsig's
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
whenever a repair is attempted.
Figure 2.3
Fashion from the seventeenth century.
On the left, Maria Anna of Bavaria, crown princess of France. On the right, a “young elegant.”
(Braun
et al.,
courtesy of
 
Northwestern University Library.)
Personality is, of course, a complex topic in its own right. A simplified way of thinking of product personality is that it reflects the many decisions about how a product looks, behaves, and is positioned throughout its marketing and advertisements. Thus, all three levels of design play a role. Personality must be matched to market segment. And it must be consistent. Think about it. If a person or product has an obnoxious personality, at least you know what to expect: you can plan for it. When behavior is inconsistent and erratic, it is difficult to know what to expect, and occasional positive surprises are not enough to overcome the frustration and irritation caused by never quite knowing what to expect.
The personalities of products, companies, and brands need as much tending to as the product itself.
The
American Heritage Dictionary
defines
fashion, style, mode,
and
vogue
thus: “These nouns refer to a prevailing or preferred manner of dress, adornment, behavior, or way of life at a given time. Fashion, the broadest term, usually refers to what accords with conventions adopted by polite society or by any culture or subculture: a time when long hair was the fashion. Style is sometimes used interchangeably
with fashion, but like mode often stresses adherence to standards of elegance: traveling in style; miniskirts that were the mode in the late sixties. Vogue is applied to fashion that prevails widely and often suggests enthusiastic but short-lived acceptance: a video game that was in vogue a few years ago.”
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