Design & Emotion Blog

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The Experience of Everyday Things

It was a very nice day with inspirational lectures by great characters from the field of design: Donald Norman (Nielsen Norman Group), Josephine Green (Philips Design), Henk Janssen (INDES) and Paul Hekkert (TU Delft). The whole thing was hosted very well by Paul Hughes of Lava. I had the chance to talk to all of them afterwards and to meet interesting people with a shared interest in emotional design. I will summarize the lectures for you below.
At the end of the lectures a debate was held where each of the presenters made a statement. We had paper cards to show if we agreed (orange) or disagreed (blue). I will do the same here.kaartjes1.jpg
Donald Norman’s debate statement: Give us back our lives One future of design is the development of intelligent devices that drive cars for us, make our meals, monitor our health, clean the floors, and tell us what to eat and when to exercise. “Stop!” I say. This direction leads to madness, to things that get in the way, that try to control our activities, that forever require maintenance and updating and repair: give us back our lives.

Don’s lecture was one full of (and almost entirely build up with) anecdotes and practical examples. They were convincing and great to listen to. Don argued that the future of design will take away the control we have, new devices will interfere with our autonomy and free will so to say. More and more designs and systems are able to ‘think’ for us, to a certain extend that it is. Because they are always limited by the amount of possibilities of occurring problems the designer came up with. Don’s example of the ACC (adaptive cruise control) system went straight to the bulls-eye. Someone he knew drove a car with this system, which is able to measure the amount of time between two vehicles and therefore adjusts speed on and off. In slow traffic you can easily take your foot from the gas and break. Anyway, this guy was driving in slow traffic using the system and decided to take an exit. So he did, but the system was still on. ACC suddenly realized there were no cars in front of him anymore and right in the exit…. speeded up. Very dangerous, and merely possible because the designer didn’t come up with this problem!
Don doesn’t want products to clean his room when he is not there, or tell him when to have dinner and when he should keep away from the fridge. Don want’s his life back and would like products that are designed in such a way that they make it easier for you when you decide to use them. You decide, and the product helps you making the job easier. Don wants to drive his Porsche and decide himself when to speed up and when to step on the break!


Don, I couldn’t agree with you more. Thumbs up.

Josephine Green’s debate statement: For the quality of our lives social innovation is more essential than technological innovation.

Josephine Green has worked at Philips Design since 1997 and promotes new thinking and new knowledge in the fields of Foresight and Society, Cultures and People Research, and its application to strategic thinking, sustainable innovation and new value creation. She participates in a number of European Futures programmes, is a member of a number of advisory boards, including the UK Design Council, and is Visiting Professor at The Glasgow School of Art and Design. She works closely with Steven Kyffin (see: Interviews).

Her lecture was rather idealistic, but no less interesting. She argued that we are driven more and more by economic growth in both consuming as well as designing products. Her statement was that we should shift from a technological point of view to a more social and cultural perspective. Design should be used as a cultural tool instead of a business tool. Personally and collectively, we are ‘consuming’ technology less and co-existing with it more, that is living side by side with it on a daily basis. The consequences of this for our daily quality of life become increasingly important. If we want to think in terms of a meaningful and appropriate quality of life then we need to go beyond technology innovation to both technology and social innovation. This implies a greater role for the art and science of the social and human disciplines.
An interesting thing Josephine mentioned was that we are ‘colonizing’ the future based on the present’. Especially the Western world is determining how the future should look like based on how we experience the present. We are not taking other perspectives into account, mainly because we are driven by economical growth.

I agree with Josephine that we should start realizing the immense impact economy has on the way we design things. There is a very big difference between products that have come about through cultural and social needs and products that serve a business goal. The first are usually longer lasting and have a greater impact in society.


Nevertheless, I also think that reality is difficult to change and it has a history of hundreds of years to shift it completely to the other direction.

Henk Janssen’s debate statement: In our time, products that promise the buyer health, leisure, comfort, fun or safety will be market winners.

Henk Janssen is the founder and director of INDES, an independent industrial design agency. Early in his career, Janssen was active as designer and project manager. He set up and managed the design and engineering team of the Huka Company, where he developed rehab products. Janssen graduated from Delft University of Technology with a degree in Industrial Design Engineering. In 1985, he moved to Twente, where he started ‘The Initiative for Medical Product Development’ in 1995, and recently initiated the founding of the ‘Industrial Design Centre’.

Henk’s statement was based on his experience from practice. He argued that developing successful products involves that a designer steps in the skin of both a demanding user and a clever marketeer. By thinking out of the box, and focussing on how a product can be far more appealing to the user (and buyer!) one can really create market winners. But it is not just about creativity, maybe it is even more about doing your homework by user testing existing products, your new concepts and optimise every detail of the end products ‘in the eyes of the user’.
Getting grip of the driving factors in consumer satisfaction is the important thing – and these are very often related to emotions – health, fun, comfort, leisure and safety.

Henk’s story was clear and had great examples of their work and that of other’s. I think INDES is a solid company that designs great products. Keep it up! Check out the award winning glasses for children in the Third World countries.

Paul Hekkert’s debate statement: Principles of human nature should be at the centre of design and design research.

Paul Hekkert is professor of form theory at the faculty of Industrial Design Engineering, Delft University of Technology. He chairs the section Design Aesthetics and supervises a research group carrying out innovative research on sense perception and (emotional) experience of products. Paul has published on product experience and aesthetics in major international journals and is co-editor of ‘Design and Emotion: The experience of everyday things’. He is co-founder and chairman of the Design and Emotion society.

Paul argued that designers – like most people – have an inclination to focus on change; new designs are often based on social and cultural developments and the latest trends in people’s behaviour. Analogously, design researchers increasingly tend to focus on individual and cultural differences determining our interaction with or experience of products. Underlying these changes and differences is, however, always a pattern or principle of a more general kind. These principles, as studied and disclosed by the human sciences, tend to be overlooked by today’s design community. They have always been and will remain a rich source of direction and inspiration for designers.

Paul’s lecture was very clear and inspirational. Nothing more to add to the above. Great point and I fully agree.

Also see:

Design and Emotion Society

Engage Design

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