6 December 2007

Are cars too safe? Are user manuals necessary?

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Donald Norman
In a Business Week interview design guru Don Norman argues for making autos less automated and for infusing gadgets with natural, easy-to-interpret feedback signals.

In his new book, The Design of Future Things (Basic Books), Don Norman isn’t afraid to call himself out on statements he made in his earlier, wildly popular publications such as The Design of Everyday Things. The co-founder of corporate design consultancy Nielsen Norman Group and the former vice-president of Apple now says that he has changed his mind on several design strategies he has advocated over the years.

The focus of his new book, however, is not on how he wishes to update his philosophies of design and innovation. Instead, it centers on so-called “smart,” or automated, gadgets and products. Increasingly being produced and marketed, these range from talking refrigerators that scold you for not keeping to a diet to cars that are comfortable and easy to drive to the point of distracting drivers from the dangers of the road.

The Northwestern University design professor spoke with BusinessWeek Innovation Dept. Editor Reena Jana about the perils of automation and subtle but effective strategies for improving product design, such as offering sounds or visual signals that are more pleasant and instructive than electronic blips and bleeps. Below are edited excerpts from their conversation.

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