overexpose any given shot, a vexingnenough situation given the day’s alternatingnperiods of bright sunhght andnblack storm clouds. The result was a seriesnof photographs that were competentnenough but less than dramatic, farninferior to those an old Brownie wouldnhave delivered.nWith many advances in technologynthere follows a diminution of quality.nOr so Donald Norman sets out tondemonstrate in Turn Signals Are the FacialnExpressions of Automobiles, whichnopens with an automatic-camera talenmuch like my own. The principal differencenis that Norman, a professor ofncognitive science at the University ofnCalifornia, San Diego, has both thentechnical wherewithal and the leisure toncontemplate why grappling with unfriendlynobjects should fill so many ofnour hours. He’s determined to changenthis sorry state of affairs.nNorman’s excursuses on the grandnquestion of bad design filled his booknThe Psychology of Everyday Thingsn(1988), a curmudgeonly look at the constructionnof common objects. Turn Signalsndoesn’t break much new ground,nbut instead supplements the author’snearlier work. He announces at the outsetnhis intention to scrutinize all new artifactsnthat might make our thinking andnquotidian acting a little easier, and hisncommonsensical forays make for stimulatingnreading indeed—especially becausentheir subjects, everyday objectsnaround the house, are so familiar thatnwe tend to take them and the headachesnthey occasion for granted. He findsnmost of those new artifacts wanting.n”Why,” Norman asks, “does a simplenthing like a door need an instructionnmanual in the form of the words ‘push’nor ‘pull’?” A well-designed object, henargues, is self-explanatory. But, he continues,nwell-designed objects are increasinglynrare; the present commoditynculture places a higher value on estheticsnthan it does on utility, even with suchnthings as cordless screwdrivers and dresserndrawers and kitchen cabinets. Beingnconcerned with “art,” many designersndon’t seem to take into account what itnis that people actually do with the thingsnthey concoct.nFor that reason, perhaps, few objectsnare standardized, hi a diverting exercise,nNorman wanders around his homencounting clocks and electric motors (henstops cal:aloging when he begins to wandernonto the number of batteries henowns), pausing to pillory the makers ofnvideoeassette recorders, coffee makers,nmicrowave ovens, and so forth. (It maynbe uncharitable to suggest that hendoesn’t really need all those trinkets.)nWhy, he wonders, must he be requirednto reset all those clocks whenever thenpower goes off during an electricalnstorm? Rather than go low tech, Normannarrives at a characteristically elegantnsolution: some designer somewhere,nhe ventures, ought to develop a masternclock that communicates with all othernelectric clocks in a home; one that, whennreset, synchronizes its slave units.nNorman’s approach is trial by digression.nEvery now and again the chaptersnof his book seem connected only by thenthinnest of threads—another instancenahem of too-subtle design. For the mostnpart, however, the seeming discontinuitiesnadd up. He ponders why automobilendashboards, which bear critical controls,nshould be more poorly designednthan turn and brake signals, which servenonly to convey meaning to otherndrivers—whence the title of this slendernbook. He ranges widely from culture tonculture to determine whether the Americannuse of the refrigerator door as anfamily message center is a modern universal—and,nwhen he discovers that it isnnot, cries out for some designer to find anmore elegant solution to our communicativenneeds than the lowly refrigeratornmagnet. He skewers the unprovablyndogmatic notion that humans use onlynone percent of their brainpower, remarkingnthat in any event the other 99npercent is probably given over to redundantnmechanisms that allow us to keepntwo thoughts going at the same timenwhile still remembering to breathe.nMost compellingly, Norman discussesnthe consequences of slovenly thinkingnand its bastard offspring, slovenly design.nHe remarks, “When I am told thatnmore than half the world’s accidents—nhome and industrial—are blamed onnthe people involved, I get very, very suspiciousnindeed.” Airline accidents arenroutinely blamed on pilot error; ThreenMile Island and Chernobyl were peggednon inattentive operators; and hospitalsnacross the nation are daily overrun bynthe victims of technologically inducednwoes. For Norman, the makers of thenknobs and panels and other doodadsnthat cannot help but confuse those whonconfront them are the source of manynof the world’s ills, and if he sometimesnwanders too deeply into conspiracy the­nnnory, well, so be it.nOne need not be a technocrat, norneven especially interested in technologicalnmatters, to enjoy Norman’s arguments,nwhich more and more come tonrank alongside the best of Lewis Mumfordnand Buckminster Fuller. The questionnremains: will the design of everydaynthings improve? It would bencomforting to think that at laboratoriesnand galleries across the technologicalnworld, designers are pouring over TurnnSignals, but Norman remains a skeptic.n”I have seen some of the technology ofnthe future and it looks suspiciously likenthat of the past, except with fancier buttonsnand displays, and more elaboratenhardware.” For all that, he remains fixednon the quest, and he closes with a disquisitionnon the old English proverb, “Ifnyou can’t stand the heat, get out of thenkitchen.”nRubbish, he says. If that’s the case,nthe thing to do is redesign the kitchen.nGregory McNamee is the author ofnChrist on the Mount of Olives, a booknof short stories.nLIBERAL ARTSnMALE RIGHTSnA federal District Court judge innAlexandria, Virginia, said expectantnfathers “may file suits charging pregnancyndiscrimination,” reported thenChicago Tribune last June. ScottnNicol, who lost his job six monthsnafter his wife told her employers shenwas pregnant, claimed “he was discriminatednagainst on the basis ofnsex because of his wife’s pregnancy.”nThe Equal Employment OpportunitynCommission, which has jurisdictionnin sex-discrimination cases,n”told Jody and Scott they both hadnthe right to sue,” since Jody too hadnbeen fired because of her pregnancy.nSusan Benton-Powers, a managementnand employment attorneynin Chicago, said “Scott Nicol wouldnhave the right to file suit even if hisnwife did not sue.” The case was recentlynsettled out of court.nOCTOBER 1992/39n