Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

The man who designed the future-Norman Bel Geddes by Barbara Szerlip

Szerlip, B. (2016). The man who designed the future  Norman Bel Geddes and the invention of twentieth-century America. Brooklyn: Melville House. 


I very much recommend the book. It tells some of the origins of today's design field when designers came from theater and advertising. When they thought big and had lofty ambitions.

Szerlip's book makes it clear that Norman Bel Geddes was a brilliant and creative thinker. His $7 million design of GM's Futurama exhibit for the 1939 NY World's Fair ($120 Million in today's money) revolutionized people's thinking about the future. Would I have liked him? Probably not -- but I would have respected him.

I learned a lot about Geddes from Szerlip's book. I conclude that he was brilliant and creative, a showman, and probably a real pain to be around. When he married, he attached his wife's name (Bel) to his -- becoming Bel Geddes -- and proclaimed that they would be partners. Some partnership. He ignored her except as someone who would take care of the children. We are told that Geddes was amazed and hurt when Bel finally had enough and abruptly left him. Geddes was continually fighting over credit (even though he didn't need it), developing massive proposals that would invariably have a high budget, which he would then overrun. 

One point stood out for me: he thought big. When asked to do a job, he instead thought of all the implications and requirements and proposed to solve them all, in one massive, masterful effort. Where are the designers of today who think this way? Would I have liked him? Probably not -- but I would have respected his brilliance and creativity. A complex, controversial genius: worthy of Szerlip's biography.

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