July 13, 2002
2:19 PM   Subscribe

Emotion and design: Atrractive things work better.
Of note here is that Don Norman works with Jakob Nielsen. In this essay he addresses the accusation that usability people want ugly design.
posted by Su (11 comments total)
Um, I think all one has to do to prove that theory is look at the site of Mr. self-imposed usability king himself, Jakob Nielsen.
posted by dogmatic at 2:25 PM on July 13, 2002

Except that it isn't Nielsen writing the piece.
And it isn't at his site.
And it barely mentions web work at all. In fact it relates to a book Norman wrote, in which he admitedly neglected mentioning the benefits of perceived beauty in objects.
Did you even bother reading the thing?
posted by Su at 2:45 PM on July 13, 2002

Not to change the subject, but another essay about design on Don Norman's web site leads to this remarkable (remarkably ugly?) hay fever hat.
posted by LeLiLo at 3:47 PM on July 13, 2002

...and this article defines the bgcolor but not the color (foreground), which makes it unreadable in my browser unless i select all the text...

but seriously, does anyone really doubt that the best design is both attractive and functional? wasn't someone at the bauhaus blathering on about marrying someone who was beatiful *and* could cook (or was it manage the servants?) over 50 years ago?
posted by andrew cooke at 4:13 PM on July 13, 2002

The funny thing about this is that Jakob also published an article covering the same thing at the same time! I think Jakob is just trying to show his cool side ;-)
posted by wackybrit at 4:57 PM on July 13, 2002

and this article defines the bgcolor but not the color (foreground), which makes it unreadable in my browser unless i select all the text.

It defines the bgcolor as white, so not defining the foreground color would mean the text would be black unless you changed the default foreground color in your browser.

My guess is that his style sheet may be the culprit, although the site looks fine in Opera, Mozilla and Netscape 4.79.
posted by jaden at 5:13 PM on July 13, 2002

true, it is more about his design theory.

He has excellent ideas, and is perhaps engineering biased, allowing me bias in favor of him (go engineers!) =p

By vouching for equality among the factors of design, I have to agree with him.

Nonetheless, his and Jakob's sites are quite plain and wordy. His argument is sound, his practice, shoddy. Moreover for himself the emotional response is less important; although he speaks true, he cannot do ;)

Ok ok. Anyway the "best" designers combine art and engineering, but an extremely beautiful work or an extremely useful work both have their merits. I do not know if there is a crisis in design, but as long as people keep making cool stuff I'm happy.
posted by firestorm at 6:10 PM on July 13, 2002

It defines the bgcolor as white, so not defining the foreground color would mean the text would be black unless you changed the default foreground color in your browser.

yup - but i also changed the default background (so pages are white text on black). surely a well designed web page shouldn't override the user's setting for one without also changing the other? imho you should either leave all settings alone or set everything - to rely on some value being the default is plain lazy... (so really i'm dittoing the comment above - he don't do what he says).
posted by andrew cooke at 11:25 PM on July 13, 2002

on the other hand - and at this point i should point out that i have no idea who jakob nielsen is - don norman makes no claims (as far as i know) to be a great web designer. or even a great designer. in which case complaining about their presentation is like criticising a music critic for whistling out of tune. it's the job of the critic to make provide useful commentary, not create the work itself.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:35 PM on July 13, 2002

The timing of these Nielsen and Norman articles make me wonder if they attended the recent Design and Emotion Conference. Quite a coincidence.

Anyway, it's good to see that they are realizing that there is more to an experience than just usability. Hopefully they will next realize that making things too usable can be a problem too.

In Nielsen's article he says "Literature that follows these conventions is easier to read and has a bigger audience than avant-garde, experimental literature." He seems to infer that reaching a bigger audience is better. In some instances, such as Norman's fire door example, this is very true since the designer cannot accurately predict who will be using the door, but in most cases things designed for everyone tend to be both ugly and limited in functionality. The best designed objects or experiences are the ones that are tailored to a specific person's abilities and preconceptions (or at least designed for a small group). Imagine what would happen to Prada if Rem Koolhaas had designed a highly usable store. Sometimes reasons to make even the simple, common objects intentionally hard to use (e.g. child-proof bottle caps).

I think the real problem is that designers either don't understand who they are designing for, or don't understand how to fulfill the needs or desires of those people.

"it's the job of the critic to make provide useful commentary…"
You are right, however it is impossible to them to provide truly meaningful commentary if they themselves have never gone through the experience of designing something. They have some good points to make, but they focus on one small area of a much larger picture.
posted by itchyrobot at 11:05 AM on July 14, 2002

The foreground colour problem is now fixed...

As far as designers not understanding the users, my experience (software engineer) is that the users are either too busy to bother explaining what they need or think that the phrase "tell me what you need" means "give me a detailed mock-technical description of a logically impossible solution that you dreamt up two weeks ago when you were having a crap".

Blame the client. That's what I say.

(This post serves to even out my emotional ying/yang - I was terribly terribly understanding when dealing with Mr Norman after someone (mentioning no names) rubbed him up the wrong way by email. And anyway, hardly anyone's here...)
posted by andrew cooke at 4:02 PM on July 15, 2002

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