Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Ask Don

Welcome to the Ask Don answer center. This is a moderated question & answer forum. Ask me questions and get responses, sometimes serious, sometimes outrageous and often with the two intermixed, leaving it to the reader to determine where I am serious and where not. Send questions to: askdon at jnd.org. If you want to contact me for any other reason, see Contact information for talks, consulting, and personal questions. Please read Guidelines for Writing To Me before writing.)

How To Find a Job or Graduate School in Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction, or Industrial Design

05 July 2012

I'm frequently asked how to find a job or a place to study, either in industrial design or user-interface design (Human-Computer Interaction). Rather than answer it anew each time, let me summarize my answer here. You either need real work experience or a graduate degree, or both. I cannot tell you what to do. Good advice has to come from someone who knows you, who knows your interests, training, and skills. I cannot acquire that in an email message or two. So, seek out knowledgeable mentors where you live. Seek professors that you trust. Go to meetings of societies (see below). Read magazines and journals to learn who is doing what, where: then write to those people about their work.

Are the New Elevators Bad Design?

04 March 2011

Ask Don was just sent this description, with an implied question. Yesterday I had business to attend to in a city building downtown Portland. The building is new and this was my first visit. I was a bit baffled at the elevators, two banks of five to a side. But no up or down button. OK, so I waited for the next to open. It arrived and I got on. No buttons to select my floor. What is going on? Is...

Do Industrial Designers have a future?

29 June 2010

An industrial Designer just asked (edited slightly):What is the industrial design's value in the future? With electronics  getting smaller and smarter, it seems that we don't need industrial designer any more. Today it is interaction and service designers who are in the spotlight. What is your opinion?...

Pod Coffee Makers

20 March 2006

This really isn't a question, but I turned it into one.  My correspondent sent the following story: A friend of mine was at a meeting where someone from Philips explained the "sense & simplicity" concept with the Senseo coffeemachine as a good example. “Look,” he said “the Senseo has only three buttons. One to turn it on, one for 1 cup, and one for 2 cups of coffee. That's all.” Everybody was impressed. “My coffee machine has just one button: one...

Encourage Graffiti (and explore affordances)

07 October 2005

"Ask Don" recently received this request from Mark Østergaard, from Denmark on behalf of a design group: "We would like to address the problem of vandalism, graffiti-painting, smashed windows, etc. In this particular case, we are designing a train station. One of the ways which we would like to implement this aspect of anti-vandalism in our project is through the idea of the psychology of materials, or as you describe it, the affordances of materials and objects." The question was...

How To Find a Job or Graduate School in Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction, or Industrial Design

19 August 2005

(Updated July 2012 from an earlier essay on finding a job.) I'm frequently asked how to find a job or a place to study, either in industrial design or user-interface design (Human-Computer Interaction). Rather than answer it anew each time, let me summarize my answer here. You either need real work experience or a graduate degree, or both. I cannot tell you what to do. Good advice has to come from someone who knows you, who knows your interests, training, and skills. I cannot acquire that in an email message or two. So, seek out knowledgeable mentors where you live. Seek professors that you trust. Go to meetings of societies (see below). Read magazines and journals to learn who is doing what, where: then write to those people about their work.

Activity-Centered Design & Scenarios

06 August 2005

In your article Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful you say that "activities are not the same as tasks," but are scenarios the same as tasks? In my line of work (web application design & development) our personas are 80% scenario descriptions (one likely scenario per activity) — which we then break down into user needs, tasks and system features. From these we then build task-flow diagrams to describe an "activity" (e.g. registration), followed by prototyping. Your article is making me rethink...

PPVMTDO: The convergence in mobile devices.

30 April 2005

What do you think about convergence in mobile devices? In next decade, will everyone carry around personal phone-videocamera-musicplayer-television-(dis)organizers? To keep it simple, we could just call them PPVMTDO's. I don't want to advertise, but the new Nokia phone series gives quite good glimpse to the future http://www.nseries.com (From a reader of jnd.org in Espoo, Finland (but who works for a "User Experience and Usability Research Company, not for Nokia)....

When data and applications are all on the internet

13 March 2005

It looks like developers are creating fewer desktop applications and instead investing in web applications and web services. Just for the sake of argument, let's say Microsoft lost control of the PC software industry and the market could freely determine whether people wanted a desktop or browser interface to their PC's operating system. With the browser interface the PC would boot up and launch the only application on the device, a simple browser like Firefox. The home page would connect...

Why do you like iPod when the shuttle is so bad?

12 March 2005

I'd like to ask your opinion on the design of the Shuffle mp3 player by Apple from a usability point of view. I'm asking this question because BusinessWeek quotes you as saying: "I've been thinking hard about the Apple product-development process since I left... If you follow my [guidelines], it will guarantee good design. But Steve Jobs doesn't want good design. He wants great design, and my method will never give you that. That takes a rare leader, who can...

Why are your books so badly designed?

12 March 2005

For someone who writes about design, how come your books are so badly designed? (Note from Don Norman: This is a distillation of many comments I receive, frequently. In The Design of Everyday Things, the most common complaints are about footnotes (or more properly, end notes), the really bad distinctions among levels of headings (it is nearly impossible to tell which is a major heading, which is minor, poor placements of figures, and so on.)...

Does the computer block creativity?

11 January 2005

I've heard so many times that if you're a designer seeking for a great insight, you have to get far from your PC: flip a magazine, look out the window, run away from the office, etc. I don't know if this recommendation is good for everybody, but I can remember that my best ideas come while taking a shower, walking on the streets, eating a snack. Does the personal computers has an insight-inhibiting force? If true, is it from hardware...

What is better, to make a well-designed program or to make it the way my users like it?

09 January 2005

(Spelling in the original note corrected, but otherwise, this is as it was received) I have a problem in my current project, I tried to drive the design to a children-kind of interface, making the buttons big and with different shapes and colors, using big and round letter fonts, etc... The point is that the interface is to be used by 18-30 year old persons, and I found out that, for example my colleagues, feel uncomfortable with such a design,...

What is the relationship between "Universal Design" and "Emotional Design"

27 December 2004

One of the primary lessons I learned from your book, Emotional Design, is that designing products to induce certain emotions can make them more usable, can increase their functionality if you like. In many ways I could see how this would indeed aid Inclusive Design, as the idea is to make products more usable for a wider range of people: e.g., one could emotionally design a product to make it easier for elderly people to use. On the other hand,...

Why not just use a display screen for the robot's face?

27 December 2004

If a robot is to use emotions to communicate its underlying state, it should do so naturally, as a byproduct of its operation. Let its motors make noise, when strained. let its eyes search around when confused. let its body be tense (motors all ready to go) when anxious, and let it be relaxed (motors turned off, tendons relaxed), when no problems exist. It doesn't even need a face, but if it is to have one, let it be natural, not some artificial drawing displayed on a screen with some designer's interpretation of what it might mean to be happy or anxious, confident or perplexed. These emotions would be fake and, as a result, fail to communicate the true state of the robot and perhaps worse, communicate the wrong state.

What is the role of the user as part of the design team

24 December 2004

Can users be part of the design team? Although the politically correct answer is "yes," I propose the opposite. Everyday people are not designers. Moreover, they probably don't even understand their own real needs. Leave design to professionals. Then again, to ignore those who would use your system is to invite disaster. So, yes, users must be studied, consulted, and listened to. But should they be a part of the team? A. If the system is complex enough that the skills required to work with it take years of experience, then yes, hire them as expert informants. Otherwise, no, good designers can acquire the necessary skills.

Is perceived usability/aesthetics more important than real

04 December 2004

Websites and Web applications are meant to be used only once or few times, so are the perceived usability (correlated to aesthetics) more important than the real usability (time for task completion, number of errors encountered, etc) on the Web? (I'm not saying that usability is not important, I'm only in doubt if aesthetics is more important to overcome the brutal competition of the Web and the user's attention span than real usability that's not perceived)...

Which side is the steering wheel?

30 November 2004

I've always wondered if the person who designed the first car with the steering wheel on the right hand side was a left handed person. What is your view on that one? Which one is the right (correct) side?!?...

Tell me why is emotional design important for you, and for education and learning?

30 November 2004

Dear Dr. Norman; I note that you have researched human memory, attention, learning, and design. As a grad student in Design, Housing & Apparel at the University of Minnesota, I am holding your new book <> in my hands. It closely relates to my thesis. My questions... Tell me why is emotional design important for you, and for education and learning? How does emotional design impact Multimedia and Instructional Design (it clearly impacts its audience)? Can higher levels of learning...

Design + Relationships

30 November 2004

Dear Don, Inspired by some of your comments on aesthetics and emotion in design I have been thinking about its application to relationships; here are some thoughts: Are people more tolerant of attractive partners? Do we overlook defects? Do we put up with more errors than we would do with similar less attractive models? Do people expect attractive people to be dumber? I recall a national radio show had a phone-in about the correlation between attractiveness and cleverness in the...

Are we fundamentally mal-adapted?

14 November 2004

Hi Don, Your book "The Design of Everyday Things" opened my eyes to a whole new world of unusable doors, etc. But over the years, as I hear those in our profession rant about unusable objects, I have to wonder whether people are drawn to the usability profession because we're unable to function in the everyday world and want it to cater to our special needs. I mean... normal people don't care that their VCR has been blinking 12:00 since...

Oakley

14 November 2004

Oakley is well known for making fashionable and functionable glasses, but I have question on this pair of sunglasses. It looks like a bra. I tried it on, it messed up my hair. I really think this pair of sunglasses will only looked good on a bald men. Maybe "The Don" can evaluate this unique design of glasses for us?!? Thks! – Kat...

Do you think HCI is a science?

14 November 2004

Do you think HCI is a science? If yes, do you think we can have a systematic and forever valid HCI theory in the end? If no, then what is HCI, and what is our position as HCI practitioners?...

convince users that they should care?

29 October 2004

I encounter so many people with the mentality that a confusing door isn't that big of a deal. These are the kinds of folks who don't care that the switch on the right controls the lamp on the left, and vice versa. "So what? You figured it out, it's not that hard." This attitude becomes a frustrating challenge when everyone else on the team is fine with a design the way it is and can't see why anything should be...

Ask "The Don" Norman

25 October 2004

I'm at a friend's house in Seaford (in England, near Brighton), and thinking of you because he has a light switch outside the bathroom (I don't know why the English think that if you have a light switch *in* the bathroom you will perforce electrocute yourself). He said, "Just hold your finger on it until the lights do what you want." The switch is a little metal sort of button. It's not entirely comfortable to hold your finger on it....

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