Don Norman
2,116,446 views • 12:41

The new me is beauty.

(Laughter) Yeah, people used to say, "Norman's OK, but if you followed what he said, everything would be usable but it would be ugly." Well, I didn't have that in mind, so ...

This is neat. Thank you for setting up my display. I mean, it's just wonderful. And I haven't the slightest idea of what it does or what it's good for, but I want it. And that's my new life. My new life is trying to understand what beauty is about, and "pretty," and "emotions." The new me is all about making things kind of neat and fun.

And so this is a Philippe Starck juicer, produced by Alessi. It's just neat; it's fun. It's so much fun I have it in my house — but I have it in the entryway, I don't use it to make juice.


In fact, I bought the gold-plated special edition and it comes with a little slip of paper that says, "Don't use this juicer to make juice." The acid will ruin the gold plating.


So actually, I took a carton of orange juice and I poured it in the glass to take this picture.


Beneath it is a wonderful knife. It's a Global cutting knife made in Japan. First of all, look at the shape — it's just wonderful to look at. Second of all, it's really beautifully balanced: it holds well, it feels well. And third of all, it's so sharp, it just cuts. It's a delight to use. And so it's got everything, right? It's beautiful and it's functional. And I can tell you stories about it, which makes it reflective, and so you'll see I have a theory of emotion. And those are the three components.

Hiroshi Ishii and his group at the MIT Media Lab took a ping-pong table and placed a projector above it, and on the ping-pong table they projected an image of water with fish swimming in it. And as you play ping-pong, whenever the ball hits part of the table, the ripples spread out and the fish run away. But of course, then the ball hits the other side, the ripples hit the — poor fish, they can't find any peace and quiet.


Is that a good way to play ping-pong? No. But is it fun? Yeah! Yeah.

Or look at Google. If you type in, oh say, "emotion and design," you get 10 pages of results. So Google just took their logo and they spread it out. Instead of saying, "You got 73,000 results. This is one through 20. Next," they just give you as many o's as there are pages. It's really simple and subtle. I bet a lot of you have seen it and never noticed it. That's the subconscious mind that sort of notices it — it probably is kind of pleasant and you didn't know why. And it's just clever. And of course, what's especially good is, if you type "design and emotion," the first response out of those 10 pages is my website.


Now, the weird thing is Google lies, because if I type "design and emotion," it says, "You don't need the 'and.' We do it anyway." So, OK. So I type "design emotion" and my website wasn't first again. It was third. Oh well, different story.

There was this wonderful review in The New York Times about the MINI Cooper automobile. It said, "You know, this is a car that has lots of faults. Buy it anyway. It's so much fun to drive." And if you look at the inside of the car — I mean, I loved it, I wanted to see it, I rented it, this is me taking a picture while my son is driving — and the inside of the car, the whole design is fun. It's round, it's neat. The controls work wonderfully. So that's my new life; it's all about fun.

I really have the feeling that pleasant things work better, and that never made any sense to me until I finally figured out — look ... I'm going to put a plank on the ground. So, imagine I have a plank about two feet wide and 30 feet long and I'm going to walk on it, and you see I can walk on it without looking, I can go back and forth and I can jump up and down. No problem. Now I'm going to put the plank 300 feet in the air — and I'm not going to go near it, thank you. Intense fear paralyzes you. It actually affects the way the brain works.

So, Paul Saffo, before his talk said that he didn't really have it down until just a few days or hours before the talk, and that anxiety was really helpful in causing him to focus. That's what fear and anxiety does; it causes you to be — what's called depth-first processing — to focus, not be distracted. And I couldn't force myself across that. Now some people can — circus workers, steel workers. But it really changes the way you think.

And then, a psychologist, Alice Isen, did this wonderful experiment. She brought students in to solve problems. So, she'd bring people into the room, and there'd be a string hanging down here and a string hanging down here. It was an empty room, except for a table with a bunch of crap on it — some papers and scissors and stuff. And she'd bring them in, and she'd say, "This is an IQ test and it determines how well you do in life. Would you tie those two strings together?" So they'd take one string and they'd pull it over here and they couldn't reach the other string. Still can't reach it. And, basically, none of them could solve it. You bring in a second group of people, and you say, "Oh, before we start, I got this box of candy, and I don't eat candy. Would you like the box of candy?"

And turns out they liked it, and it made them happy — not very happy, but a little bit of happy. And guess what — they solved the problem. And it turns out that when you're anxious you squirt neural transmitters in the brain, which focuses you makes you depth-first. And when you're happy — what we call positive valence — you squirt dopamine into the prefrontal lobes, which makes you a breadth-first problem solver: you're more susceptible to interruption; you do out-of-the-box thinking. That's what brainstorming is about, right? With brainstorming we make you happy, we play games, and we say, "No criticism," and you get all these weird, neat ideas. But in fact, if that's how you always were you'd never get any work done because you'd be working along and say, "Oh, I got a new way of doing it." So to get work done, you've got to set a deadline, right? You've got be anxious. The brain works differently if you're happy. Things work better because you're more creative. You get a little problem, you say, "Ah, I'll figure it out." No big deal.

There's something I call the visceral level of processing, and there will be visceral-level design. Biology — we have co-adapted through biology to like bright colors. That's especially good that mammals and primates like fruits and bright plants, because you eat the fruit and you thereby spread the seed. There's an amazing amount of stuff that's built into the brain. We dislike bitter tastes, we dislike loud sounds, we dislike hot temperatures, cold temperatures. We dislike scolding voices. We dislike frowning faces; we like symmetrical faces, etc., etc. So that's the visceral level. In design, you can express visceral in lots of ways, like the choice of type fonts and the red for hot, exciting. Or the 1963 Jaguar: It's actually a crummy car, falls apart all the time, but the owners love it. And it's beautiful — it's in the Museum of Modern Art. A water bottle: You buy it because of the bottle, not because of the water. And when people are finished, they don't throw it away. They keep it for — you know, it's like the old wine bottles, you keep it for decoration or maybe fill it with water again, which proves it's not the water. It's all about the visceral experience.

The middle level of processing is the behavioral level and that's actually where most of our stuff gets done. Visceral is subconscious, you're unaware of it. Behavioral is subconscious, you're unaware of it. Almost everything we do is subconscious. I'm walking around the stage — I'm not attending to the control of my legs. I'm doing a lot; most of my talk is subconscious; it has been rehearsed and thought about a lot. Most of what we do is subconscious. Automatic behavior — skilled behavior — is subconscious, controlled by the behavioral side. And behavioral design is all about feeling in control, which includes usability, understanding — but also the feel and heft.

That's why the Global knives are so neat. They're so nicely balanced, so sharp, that you really feel you're in control of the cutting. Or, just driving a high-performance sports car over a demanding curb — again, feeling that you are in complete control of the environment. Or the sensual feeling. This is a Kohler shower, a waterfall shower, and actually, all those knobs beneath are also showerheads. It will squirt you all around and you can stay in that shower for hours — and not waste water, by the way, because it recirculates the same dirty water.


Or this — this is a really neat teapot I found at high tea at The Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. It's a Ronnefeldt tilting teapot. That's kind of what the teapot looks like but the way you use it is you lay it on its back, and you put tea in, and then you fill it with water. The water then seeps over the tea. And the tea is sitting in this stuff to the right — the tea is to the right of this line. There's a little ledge inside, so the tea is sitting there and the water is filling it up like that. And when the tea is ready, or almost ready, you tilt it. And that means the tea is partially covered while it completes the brewing. And when it's finished, you put it vertically, and now the tea is — you remember — above this line and the water only comes to here — and so it keeps the tea out. On top of that, it communicates, which is what emotion does.

Emotion is all about acting; emotion is really about acting. It's being safe in the world. Cognition is about understanding the world, emotion is about interpreting it — saying good, bad, safe, dangerous, and getting us ready to act, which is why the muscles tense or relax. And that's why we can tell the emotion of somebody else — because their muscles are acting, subconsciously, except that we've evolved to make the facial muscles really rich with emotion. Well, this has emotions if you like, because it signals the waiter that, "Hey, I'm finished. See — upright." And the waiter can come by and say, "Would you like more water?" It's kind of neat. What a wonderful design.

And the third level is reflective, which is, if you like the superego, it's a little part of the brain that has no control over what you do, no control over the — doesn't see the senses, doesn't control the muscles. It looks over what's going on. It's that little voice in your head that's watching and saying, "That's good. That's bad." Or, "Why are you doing that? I don't understand." It's that little voice in your head that's the seat of consciousness.

Here's a great reflective product. Owners of the Hummer have said, "You know I've owned many cars in my life — all sorts of exotic cars, but never have I had a car that attracted so much attention." It's about attention. It's about their image, not about the car. If you want a more positive model — this is the GM car. And the reason you might buy it now is because you care about the environment. And you'll buy it to protect the environment, even though the first few cars are going to be really expensive and not perfected. But that's reflective design as well. Or an expensive watch, so you can impress people — "Oh gee, I didn't know you had that watch." As opposed to this one, which is a pure behavioral watch, which probably keeps better time than the $13,000 watch I just showed you. But it's ugly. This is a clear Don Norman watch.

And what's neat is sometimes you pit one emotion against the other, the visceral fear of falling against the reflective state saying, "It's OK. It's OK. It's safe. It's safe." If that amusement park were rusty and falling apart, you'd never go on the ride. So, it's pitting one against the other. The other neat thing ...


So Jake Cress is this furniture maker, and he makes this unbelievable set of furniture. And this is his chair with claw, and the poor little chair has lost its ball and it's trying to get it back before anybody notices. And what's so neat about it is how you accept that story. And that's what's nice about emotion.

So that's the new me. I'm only saying positive things from now on.