POET, the psycho-poetry of everyday things

Green Ear Milano. Credits Jurgita Po.Alessi - Bastart Web Magazine

Architects talking to bricks, photographers shooting car portraits, people building eared houses, designers creating toilet brushes, and artists designing coffeepots for masochists… And then again: architects tuning up public toilets in Kawakawa. What is all this list about? Do they have something in common? Should they?

I’ve been wondering, for a while. Then some days ago, the answer came up, in a form a Green Ear embedded in a house in the splendid Porta Venezia area of Milano. That’s how the idea was born: to publish a series of posts about POET – the Psycho-poetry of Everyday Things. The original term coined by Donald A. Norman, stands for an acronym of The Psychology of Everyday Things, a 1988 Norman’s book that investigates the problems of design and possible ways of improving things.

It’s interesting to note though that the Italian version has slightly changed the tiltle, shifting from psychology towards psychopathology – La caffettiera del masochista: psicopatologia degli oggetti quotidiani (1996). Encouraged and inspired by this play (?) on words and meanings, I though why not shifting it further again, towards the psycho-poetry of everyday things.

A curiosity on Norman’s title

For the paperback edition of the book, Norman added a chapter called The Book Title: A Lesson in Design, definitely worth giving a thorough look over:

The title of this book is a case history of design. A writer is also a designer, a designer of words rather than of things. I liked the original title, The Psychology of Everyday Things, both for the cleverness with witch it suggested that inanimate objects had a psychology and for the clever acronym created by the first letters of the words: POET. Rule of thumb: if you think something is clever and sophisticated, beware – it is probably self-indulgence.

/…/ I discovered that while the academic community liked the title and its cleverness, the business community did not. In fact, business often ignored the book because the title sent the wrong message. Bookstores placed the book in their psychology sections (along with books on sex, love, and self-help). The final nail in the title’s coffin came when I was asked to talk to a group of senior executives of a leading manufacturing company. The person who introduced me to the audience praised the book, damned the title, and asked his colleagues to read the book despite the title.

Clearly the title had to be redone. Alas, the so-called “installed base problem” raised its head: the new title had to have some relation to the old. In Japan, things were easier, for the phrase “everyday things” is not easily translated, and “psychology” is not a popular subject: The Japanese title became Design for Usability: The Psychology of Everyday Tools. In English we had to keep compatibility with the original tilte. So here it is, the paperback edition, newly entitled The Design of Everyday Things.

Words by Jurgita Po.Alessi

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