Emotions run high for 'Knute Rockne of tech'
January 5, 2004
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
This is an emotional
week. The holidays are over. It's time to go back to work. In
the technology business, it's time to count up wins and losses
and make plans for the future. As tech execs search for answers,
the calls begin to Chicago's Don Norman and his Nielsen Norman
Group. Norman, 67, is professor of computer science and psychology
at Northwestern University. He is to the world of technology product
design what Knute Rockne was to football. He's a coach showing
us new ways of playing the game. And Norman is changing the world
of product design right here in Chicago without fanfare or celebrity.
is also the week that Norman's latest book, Emotional Design:
Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things from Basic Books hits the
Norman's work, think of the old Tina Turner song, "What's
Love Got To Do With It?" When it comes to creating successful
technology products and services, the answer according to Norman
appeal to our emotions are more likely to succeed. Yet, too often,
the engineers who create the technology products and the finance
wizards who run the technology companies forget there's more than
logic involved in the purchase decision. It's about emotion and
a strong emotional component how products are designed and put
to use," Norman argues. "The emotional side of design
may be more critical to a product's success than its practical
NFL headset created by Chicago design firm Herbst LaZar Bell for
Motorola. That's the one you see on national television sporting
the Motorola logo atop the heads of NFL coaches. It's given Motorola
great visibility. What made the headset successful? According
to Norman it's an understanding of the emotional side.
are the leaders of a large, active team," Norman observes.
"Football players are among the most muscular in sports.
The headset had to be muscular itself to convey the image of a
coach in charge of things."
to want to wear the headset. It had to feel right to them. Lighter
weight designs were possible, but the winning design "was
cool, functioned well, serves as an effective advertising tool
and enhances the self image of the coaches," Norman says.
headset might not have helped Bear's coach Dick Jauron keep his
job, but we get Norman's point.
comments about robots are stirring up a heap of strong emotions.
He wants to program emotions into a new generation of autonomous
machines. "Emotions are essential to human functioning,"
Norman tells me. "If we're going to have autonomous machines,
they will need a form of emotion. As soon as I start saying that
-- voom, people get upset."
of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Terminator movies, Norman recently
told New Yorker magazine that "Our emotions protect us, guide
us and make us inquisitive. Robots will need the same kind of
equipment. And robots need to display their emotions so that humans
will be able to tell at a glance what's going on inside them."
Then in Scientific
American he said, "Machines should have emotions for the
same reason people do: to keep them safe, make them curious and
to help them learn."
are able to build basic emotions into machines right now.
comments about robotic emotions are provocative, his thoughts
about the local technology design scene are equally passionate.
at the center
is the center of expertise in product design, but isn't known
for it," he laments. He points to the work of world class
design firms like Herbst LaZar Bell and IDEO that have major offices
here. He serves as a trustee at the Institute of Design at IIT,
which he says is "one of the major design schools in the
world at understanding user needs."
building new programs at Northwestern University's Engineering
School. "Engineers build things that get used by people,"
he says. "They must understand people's emotions if they're
going to do a successful job."
a novel thought from the City of Big Shoulders.
Michael Krauss is a Chicago based tech writer and consultant,
and senior vice president for Hostway Corp., Chicago.