Many people continually ask for my suggestions of readings in design. Here is an excerpt from the "Readings and Notes" section of the 2013 revision and expansion of the book Design of Everyday Things" that provides my list of general books for interaction design. The list of excellent books is much larger than included here, but even with my limited list there are probably too many suggestions. Still, this is a good place to start.
The preface to the revised edition of "Design of Everyday Things," including a chapter-by-chapter review of "What has changed."
In June, 2010, I posted an essay on Core77 entitled "Design Thinking: A Useful Myth." I am here to say that I now have rethought my position. I still stand by the major points of the earlier essay, but I have changed the conclusion. As a result, the essay should really be titled: Design Thinking: An Essential Tool. Let me explain. (Pointer to my article published at core77.com (plus a new reference).
Ah, style. The elegance of gentle interaction, with grace and beauty, wit and charm. Or perhaps brute force abruptness, rudeness and insult. Style refers to the way of doing something and although we usually use it in the positive sense, the word itself is neutral, referring only to the manner by which something is done. Style can be coarse and ugly, brutish and dangerous. The best styles, including both those we respect and prefer and those we detest, are true and honest, consistent and coherent.
(An essay for Misc Magazine.) Maybe I am a gadget. That would certainly explain a lot of things. A quick search of the internet for the definition of gadget yields two meanings: 1. A small device that performs or aids a simple task; 2. A small device that appears useful but is often unnecessary or superfluous. Yeah, those sound like me.
(Essay for Misc Magazine.) Real complexity does not lie in the tools, but in the task. Skilled workers have an array of tools, each carefully matched to a particular task requirement. It can take years to learn which tool goes with which task, and years to master the tools. The tool set is complicated because the task is complicated. Looking at the visual simplicity of the tool is misleading. The mark of the great designer is the ability to provide the complexity that people need in a manner that is understandable and elegant. Simplicity should never be the goal. Complex things will require complexity. It is the job of the designer to manage that complexity with skill and grace.
When What Is Natural For Some Is Not for Others: Culture and Design. I was in Asia, giving a talk. I was given a remote controller for advancing my slides. This one had with two buttons, one above the other. When I pushed the upper button to advance to the slide, I was flustered: I went backwards through my slide set, not forward. "How could this happen?" I wondered. To me, top obviously means forward, bottom backwards. I decided to ask the audience what they thought: To my great surprise, the audience was split in their responses. Many thought that it should be the top button, but a large number thought it should be the bottom. But there is more. This is a point of view question, one that has plagued designers for years (which moves? The text or the window?) Different cultures have very different points of view. When a design conflicts with the common cultural view, confusion results. (Article posted at core77.com and jnd.org. bit.ly/NZckqz )
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.
This is a short, 3 minute video, that captures the dilemma of modern education. Engineering education has become narrower and deeper. We teach and train specialties and specialists. Practical applications require tying together the knowledge of the many specialties. They require generalists, people who have broad, integrated understanding of the world. We need an educational system that rewards those who are broad and knowledgable as well as those who are deep and narrow, even if the broad knowledge comes at the expense of shallow depth. Being narrow is just as big a liability as being shallow. We need both kinds of people. Alas, the university hires, teaches, and trains only the deep and narrow.
Don Norman and Roberto Verganti: We discuss the differences between incremental and radical innovation and argue that each results from different processes. Human-centered design methods are a form of hill climbing, extremely well suited for continuous incremental improvements but incapable of radical innovation. Radical innovation requires finding a different hill, and this comes about only through meaning or technology change. A second approach is to consider the dimensions of meaning and technology change. Finally, we show how innovation might be viewed as lying in the space formed by the dimension of research aimed at enhancing general knowledge and the dimension of application to practice. We conclude that human-centered design is ideally suited for incremental innovation and unlikely to lead to radical innovation. Radical innovation comes from changes in either technology or meaning. Technology-driven innovation often comes from inventors and tinkerers. Meaning-driven innovation, however, has the potential to be driven through design research, but only if the research addresses fundamental questions of new meanings and their interpretation.
Does culture matter for product design? For the world of mass-produced products, that is, for the world of industrial design, culture might be far less important than we might have expected. Is this really true, and if so, is this a positive or negative finding?
Out with the Old, In with the New: A Conversation with Don Norman & Jon Kolko, mediated by Richard Anderson. The item contains photos, a transcript, and an embedded video of the event. Topics addressed included the nature of and the difference between art and design, whether design should be taught in art schools (such as AAU), Abraham Maslow, usability, what design (or all) education should be like, the problem with "design thinking" courses, the destiny of printed magazines and printed books, aging and ageism, the relationship between HCI and interaction design, Arduino, simplicity, social media, Google, privacy, design research, the context in which design occurs, the Austin Center for Design, solving wicked problems, whether designers make good entrepreneurs, politics, Herb Simon & cybernetics, the strengths & weaknesses of interconnected systems, and how designers should position themselves.
We are now in the 21st century, but design curricula seem stuck in the mid 20th century. In the 21st century, design has broadened to include interaction and experience, services and strategies. The technologies are more sophisticated, involving advanced materials, computation, communication, sensors, and actuators. The products and services have complex interactions that have to be self-explanatory, sometimes involving other people separated by time or distance. Traditional design activities have to be supplemented with an understanding of technology, business, and human psychology. With all these changes, one would expect major changes in design education. Nope. Design education is led by craftspeople who are proud of their skills and they see no reason to change. Design education is mired in the past.
At the start of almost every technology transition, chaos rules. Competing competitors create confusion, often quite deliberate, as they develop their own unique way of doing things incompatible with all others. Today, the long-established, well-learned model of scrolling is being changed by one vendor, but not by others. Gestures proliferate, with no standards, no easy way of being reminded of them, new easy way to learn. Change is important, for it is how we make progress. Some confusion is to be expected. But many of the changes and the resulting confusions of today seem arbitrary and capricious.
Think before acting. Sounds right, doesn't it? Think before starting to design. Yup. Do some research, learn more about the requirements, the people, the activities. Then design. It all makes sense. Which is precisely why I wish to challenge it. Sometimes it makes sense to act first, think afterwards.
I frequently find myself in a state of simultaneous dismay and delightful admiration about the end product of designers. This state can be described by contrasting the way a designer and an engineer would solve the same problem. Designers evoke great delight in their work. Engineers provide utilitarian value. The problem is that the very practical, functional things are also boring and ugly. Good designers would never allow boring and ugly to describe their work: they strive to produce delight. But sometimes that delightful result is not very practical, difficult to use, and not completely functional. Practical versus delightful: Which do you prefer? Designers approach the world with charming naiveté, coupled with artistic elegance and the art of examining issues in novel, unconstrained ways. Their solutions provide a graceful elegance and new insight, perhaps because of their lack of knowledge, their naiveté. Designers are trained as craftspeople, without any substantive knowledge of the content areas in which they do their work. This very lack of knowledge can produce profound insights that lead to advances in understanding, hence my delight. Having too much knowledge can lead to following the failed footsteps of those who preceded you.
My videos have been resurrected! Let me explain.One upon a time, many years ago -- 1994 to be precise -- The Voyager Company produced a delightful CD-ROM that included copies of several of my books ("Design of Everyday Things," "Things that Make Us Smart," and "Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles." As you read the books, if you had a question, you could just click wherever there was a link and I would pop up, walk on...
I am forced to read a lot of crap. As a reviewer of submissions to design journals and conferences, as a juror of design contests, and as a mentor and advisor to design students and faculty, I read outrageous claims made by designers who have little understanding of the complexity of the problems they are attempting to solve or of the standards of evidence required to make claims. Oftentimes the crap comes from brilliant and talented people, with good ideas and wonderful instantiations of physical products, concepts, or simulations. The crap is in the claims. In the early days of industrial design, the work was primarily focused upon physical products. Today, however, designers work on organizational structure and social problems, on interaction, service, and experience design. Many problems involve complex social and political issues. As a result, designers have become applied behavioral scientists, but they are woefully undereducated for the task. Designers often fail to understand the complexity of the issues and the depth of knowledge already known. They claim that fresh eyes can produce novel solutions, but then they wonder why these solutions are seldom implemented, or if implemented, why they fail. Fresh eyes can indeed produce insightful results, but the eyes must also be educated and knowledgeable. Designers often lack the requisite understanding. Design schools do not train students about these complex issues, about the interlocking complexities of human and social behavior, about the behavioral sciences, technology, and business. There is little or no training in science, the scientific method, and experimental design.
Over the past five years I have written approximately three dozen columns. What has been learned? What will come? Obviously it is time for reflection. My goal has always been to incite thought, debate, and understanding. Those of us in the field of interaction, whether students, researchers or practitioners, whether designers or programmers, synthesizers or analyzers, all share some common beliefs and ideals. One of my jobs is to challenge these established beliefs, for often when they are examined, they rest on an ill-defined platform, often with no supporting evidence except that they have been around for so long, they are accepted as given, without need for examination. We need a rigorous foundation for our work, which means to question that which is not firmly supported by evidence, if it appears obvious. Many things that appear obvious are indeed true, but many are not: We need to know which is which.
There is a trend to eliminate designers. Who needs them when we can simply test our way to success? The excitement of powerful, captivating design is defined as irrelevant. Worse, the nature of design is in danger.
In reality a product is all about the experience. It is about discovery, purchase, anticipation, opening the package, the very first usage. It is also about continued usage, learning, the need for assistance, updating, maintenance, supplies, and eventual renewal in the form of disposal or exchange. Most companies treat every stage as a different process, done by a different division of the company: R&D, manufacturing, packaging, sales, and then as a necessary afterthought, service. As a result there is seldom any coherence. Instead, there are contradictions. If you think of the product as a service, then the separate parts make no sense--the point of a product is to offer great experiences to its owner, which means that it offers a service. And that experience, that service, is the result of the coherence of the parts. The real value of a product consists of far more than the product's components.
Designers are proud of their ability to innovate, to think outside the box, to develop creative, powerful ideas for their clients. Sometimes these ideas win design prizes. However, the rate at which these ideas achieve commercial success is low. Many of the ideas die within the companies, never becoming a product. Among those that become products, a good number never reach commercial success. Ideas are just the starting point toward product realization. New product ideas have to fit the competencies of the corporation. They have to fit within the existing family or products, or at least the product strategy. The purchasers of new products have to be prepared. The costs must be contained. The technology must be up to it. The same people who the new ideas are intended to supplant and go around are now responsible for executing the ideas. No wonder so many good ideas fail.
Every year the world holds many contests for industrial designers. Lots of submissions, lots of time spent by jurors reviewing them, lots of pretty pictures afterwards. Fun to read, wonderful for the winners. What's the problem? I have been a juror for a number of contests, including the major American yearly contest sponsored by the Industrial Design Society of America, IDSA, and BusinessWeek. Although I always enjoyed the experience and the interaction with talented, hard-working fellow jurors, I have become increasingly dissatisfied with the results. Why are shows bad? Shouldn't we reward good design? Sure, if that's what the shows accomplish, but they don't. In fact, I believe they do harm to the profession. (Opening sentences of my Core77 column.)
A powerful myth has arisen upon the land, a myth that permeates business, academia, and government. It is pervasive and persuasive. But although it is relatively harmless, it is false. The myth? That designers possess some mystical, creative thought process that places them above all others in their skills at creative, groundbreaking thought. This myth is nonsense, but like all myths, it has a certain ring of plausibility although lacking any evidence. Why should we perpetuate such nonsensical, erroneous thinking?...
Gestural interfaces are fun to use: gestures add a welcome feeling of activity to the otherwise joyless ones of pointing and clicking. The are truly a revolutionary mode of interaction. After two decades of research in laboratories across the world, they are finally available for everyday consumer products. But the lack of consistency, inability to discover operations, coupled with the ease of accidentally triggering actions from which there is no recovery threatens the viability of these systems. We urgently need to return to our basics, developing usability guidelines for these systems that are based upon solid principles of interaction design, not on the whims of the company human interface guidelines and arbitrary ideas of developers.
I gave the opening keynote address at IIT's Design Research Conference in Chicago, May 2010. In it, i combined two of the major themes I have long been working on. The video of that talk is now available. The research-product gap. The design research community -- and all research communities, for that matter -- have little understanding, knowledge of, or even interest in the product side of companies. Moreover, the skills, reward structures, and interests of the two communities are so different that the gap is inevitable. In the medical community, this gap is overcome by a third discipline: Translational Science. I recommend we follow suite with a new discipline, Translational Engineering, that translates the language of research into the language of products, and vice-versa. Two kinds of innovation. A very closely related confusion exists about innovation. Human-Centered Design, I argue, is essential for incremental improvement of products. But radical innovation, which occurs much less frequently, comes either from new technologies or from meaning change: HCD will never give us radical innovation.
There is an immense gap between research and practice. There are fundamental differences in the knowledge and skill sets required by those who conduct the research and those who attempt to translate those results into practical, reliable, and affordable form. Between research and practice a new, third discipline must be inserted, one that can translate between the abstractions of research and the practicalities of practice. We need a discipline of translational development. Translational developers are needed who can mine the insights of researchers and hone them into practical, reliable and useful results. Similarly translational developers must help translate the problems and concerns of practice into the clear, need-based statements that can drive researchers to develop new insights. Neither direction of translation is easy.
Gestural interaction is the new excitement in the halls of industry. Advances in the size, power, and cost of microprocessors, memory, cameras, and other sensing devices now make it possible to control by wipes and flicks, hand gestures, and body movements. A new world of interaction is here: The rulebooks and guidelines are being rewritten, or at least, such is the claim. And the new interactions even have a new marketing name: natural, as in "Natural User Interface." As usual, marketing rhetoric is ahead of reality. All new technologies have their proper place. All new technologies will take a while for us to figure out the best manner of interaction as well as the standardization that removes one source of potential confusion. None of these systems is inherently more natural than the others. What we think of as natural is, to a large extent, learned.
I've come to a disconcerting conclusion: design research is great when it comes to improving existing product categories but essentially useless when it comes to new, innovative breakthroughs. I reached this conclusion through examination of a range of product innovations, most especially looking at those major conceptual breakthroughs that have had huge impact upon society as well as the more common, mundane small, continual improvements. Call one conceptual breakthrough, the other incremental. Although we would prefer to believe that conceptual breakthroughs occur because of a detailed consideration of human needs, especially fundamental but unspoken hidden needs so beloved by the design research community, the fact is that it simply doesn't happen. New conceptual breakthroughs are invariably driven by the development of new technologies The new technologies, in turn, inspire technologists to invent things, not sometimes because they themselves dream of having their capabilities, but many times simply because they can build them. In other words, grand conceptual inventions happen because technology has finally made them possible. Do people need them? That question is answered over the next several decades as the technology moves from technical demonstration, to product, to failure, or perhaps to slow acceptance in the commercial world where slowly, after considerable time, the products and applications are jointly evolve, and slowly the need develops.
We live in exciting times. Finally, we are beginning to understand that pleasure and fun are important components of life, that emotion is not a bad thing, and that learning, education and work can all benefit through encouraging pleasure and fun. Up to now, a primary goal of product and service design has been to provide useful functions and results. We should not lose track of these goals, but now that we are well on our way to doing that for an amazing variety of goods and services, it is time to make sure that they are pleasurable as well. Not only does this require emotions to be a major component of design thinking, but we must incorporate action as well, actions that use the whole body in movement, rhythm, and purpose. New technologies allow creativity to blossom, whether for reasons silly or sublime. Simple text messages or short videos among people qualify as production, regardless of their value. This new movement is about participating and creating, invoking the creative spirit. This is what the transmedia experience should be about. All of these experiences are allowing people to feel more like producers and creators rather than passive consumers or spectators. The new design challenge is to create true participatory designs coupled with true multi-media immersion that reveal new insights and create true novel experiences. We all participate, we all experience. We all design, we all partake. But much of this is meaningless: how do we provide richness and depth, enhanced through the active engagement of all, whether they be the originators or the recipients of the experience? How will this come to pass? What is the role in everyday life? Will this be a small portion or will it dominate? Will it even be permitted within the confines of contemporary commercialism? Those are the significant design challenges.
People are from earth. Machines are from outer space. I don't know what kind of manners they teach in outer space, but if machines are going to live here in our world, they really need to learn to behave properly. You know, when on Earth, do as the earthlings do. So, hey machines, you need to become socialized. Right now you are arrogant, antisocial, irritating know-it-alls. Sure, you say nice things like “please” and “thank you,” but being polite involves more than words. It is time to socialize our interactions with technology. Sociable machines. Basic lessons in communication skills. Rules of machine etiquette. Machines need to show empathy with the people with whom they interact, understand their point of view, and above all, communicate so that everyone understands what is happening.It never occurs to a machine that the problems might be theirs. Oh no. It's us pesky people who are to blame.
One of our fundamental principles is that of perceived affordances: that's one way we know what to do in novel situations. That's fine for objects, but what about situations? What about people, social groups, cultures? Powerful clues arise from what I call social signifiers. A "signifier" is some sort of indicator, some signal in the physical or social world that can be interpreted meaningfully. Signifiers signify critical information, even if the signifier itself is an accidental byproduct of the world. Social signifiers are those that are relevant to social usages. Some social indicators simply are the unintended but informative result of the behavior of others. Social signifiers replace affordances, for they are broader and richer, allowing for accidental signifiers as well as deliberate ones, and even for items that signify by their absence, as the lack of crowds on a train platform. The perceivable part of an affordance is a signifier, and if deliberately placed by a designer, it is a social signifier.
I'm on a campaign to make assistive devices aesthetically delightful -- without impairing effectiveness and cost. Why are things such as canes, wheelchairs so ugly? I urge the skilled industrial designers of this world to revolutionize this arena. Perhaps the Industrial Design Society of America (IDSA) and the equivalent design societies all over the world ought to sponsor a design contest. The best design schools should encourage design projects for assistive devices that function well, are cost effective (two aspects that are often left out of design schools) as well as fun, pleasurable and fashionable (aspects that are absent from more engineering- or social-sciences -based programs). There are many groups at work in this area: simply do a web search on the phrases "inclusive design" or "universal design" or "accessible design." They do excellent work, but the emphasis is on providing aids and assistance, or changing public policy. All that is both good and essential, but I want to go one step further: add aesthetics, pleasure, and fashion to the mix. Make it so these aids are sought after, fashionable, delightful, and fun. For everyone, which is what the words inclusive, universal, and accessible are supposed to mean. Designers of the world: Unite behind a worthy cause.
This article contains pointers to my MIT Sloan Management Review paper on waiting lines as well as a PDF of to the earlier paper in which I discussed the same issues in more depth than SMR permitted. The PDF file, "The Psychology of Waiting Lines." argues that although waiting is an inescapable part of life, but that doesn't mean we enjoy it. But if the lines are truly inescapable, what can be done to make them less painful? Although there is a good deal of practical knowledge, usually known within the heads of corporate managers, very little has been published about the topic. One paper provides the classic treatment: David Maister's The Psychology of Waiting Lines (1985). Maister suggested several principles for increasing the pleasantness of waiting. Although his paper provides an excellent start, it was published in 1985 and there have been considerable advances in our knowledge since then. In this section, I bring the study of waiting lines up to date, following the spirit of Maister's original publication, but with considerable revision in light of modern findings. I suggest eight design principles, starting with the "emotions dominate" and ending with the principle that "memory of an event is more important than the experience." Examples of design solutions include double buffering, providing clear conceptual models of the events with continual feedback, providing positive memories and even why one might deliberately induce waits. These principles apply to all services, not just waiting in lines. Details will vary from situation to situation, industry to industry, but the fundamentals are, in truth, the fundamentals of sociable design for waiting lines, for products, and for service.
This is an abstract for the attached PDF file, "Sociable Design". Whether designing the rooftop of a building or the rear end of a home or business appliance, sociable design considers how the design will impact everyone: not just the one, intended person standing in front, but also all the rest of society that interacts. One person uses a computer: the rest of us are at the other side of the desk or counter, peering at the ugly rear end, with wires spilling over like entrails. The residents of a building may never see its roof, but those who live in adjoining buildings may spend their entire workday peering at ugly asphalt, shafts and ventilating equipment. Support for groups is the hallmark of sociable technology. Groups are almost always involved in activities, even when the other people are not visible. All design has a social component: support for this social component, support for groups must always be a consideration. Sociable design is not just saying â€œpleaseâ€ and â€œthank you.â€ It is not just providing technical support. It is also providing convivial working spaces, plus the time to make use of them. Sociable technology must support the four themes of communication, presentation, support for groups, and troubleshooting. How these are handled determines whether or not we will find interaction to be sociable. People learn social skills. Machines have to have them designed into them. Sometimes even worse than machines, however, are services, where even though we are often interacting with people, the service activities are dictated by formal rule books of procedures and processes, and the people we interact with can be as frustrated and confused as we are. This too is a design issue. Design of both machines and services should be thought of as a social activity, one where there is much concern paid to the social nature of the interaction. All products have a social component. This is especially true of communication products, whether websites, personal digests (blog), audio and video postings mean to be shared, or mail digests, mailing lists, and text messaging on cellphones. Social networks are by definition social. But where the social impact is obvious, designers are forewarned. The interesting cases happen where the social side is not so obvious.
Everyone wants simplicity. Everyone misses the point. Simplicity is not the goal. We do not wish to give up the power and flexibility of our technologies. We are faced with an apparent paradox, but don’t worry: good design will see us through. People want the extra power that increased features bring to a product, but they intensely dislike the complexity that results. Is this a paradox? Not necessarily. Complexity can be managed. The argument is not between adding features and simplicity, between adding capability and usability. The real issue is about design: designing things that have the power required for the job while maintaining understandability, the feeling of control, and the pleasure of accomplishment.
Where do new ideas come from? How should designers create, transform, innovate? Do we need formal observational methods? When I talk to today’s foremost designers, most are scornful. Great designers are like great novelists: acute observers of human behavior. Although they are scornful of formal methods, they themselves are expert practitioners of observation, and if you can corner them in a quiet room (or better yet, a noisy bar), they will brag about those abilities. Many ordinary people use the objects around them in unordinary ways. Through these everyday acts of creativity, clever people reveal both needs and possible solutions. They lead to the innovations that will benefit many. Hacks and workarounds: those are the soul of innovation. Observing is easy: recognizing the innovation and then knowing what to do with the observations are where the difficulties lie.
David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals says: "I'm not designing software for other people, I'm designing it for me." Wow. That is the sort of arrogance that the design community clustered around 37signals disdains -- or so I thought. Understanding the true needs of customers is essential for business success. Making sure the product is elegant, functional and understandable is also essential. The disdain for customers shown by Hansson of 37signals is an arrogance bound to fail. As long as 37signals is a hobby, where programmers code for themselves, it may very well succeed as a small enterprise with its current size of 10 employees. I'm happy for them, and for the numerous small developers and small companies that find their products useful. But their attitude is a symbol: a symbol of eventual failure. Too bad. In fact, that attitude is not so much arrogance as it is selfishness: they are selfish. A little less arrogance and a lot more empathy would turn these brilliant programmers into a brilliant company, a brilliant success.
Interaction design is about interfaces, which means it is about synchronizing the events of different systems, about memories, buffers, queues and waiting rooms. Waiting is an unavoidable component of interfaces, an unavoidable part of life. Just as dirt collects in crevices, buffers collect in the interfaces between systems. It is their natural home, and life would not work without them. I have become fascinated by buffers. I see them everywhere I look. They cannot be escaped.
Many of our clever ethnographic and field methods are designed to find unmet needs. You know what? Most are far better off if they stay unmet.
The automobile industry is badly in need of guidance on human factors. Excellent people already work in the companies, but they suffer the problems faced within the consumer electronics and computer industries over the past few decades. This is an important arena, one where human-centered design skills are essential. But success will come only when our discipline can provide seasoned managers who know how to work across disciplines, with engineers, designers (stylists), manufacturing, marketing and, of course, upper management.
Yes, we want simplicity, but we don’t want to give up any of those cool features. Simplicity is highly overrated.
Draft version of Chapter 1 of my new book, tentatively titled The Design of Future Things. (In press: Basic Books. Expected publication: 2007.) This chapter is called "Cautious cars and cantankerous kitchens." Posted December 9, 2006 as a Microsoft Word file.
The truth? It isn't simple. Why does it look simple? Because you can only do one thing from their home page: search. If you want to do one of the many other things Google is able to do, oops, first you have to figure out how to find it, then you have to figure out which of the many offerings to use, then you have to figure out how to use it. And because all those other things are not on the home page but, instead, are hidden away in various mysterious places, extra clicks and operations are required for even simple tasks -- if you can remember how to get to them.
(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.
I flew from Munich to Chicago in a brand new Lufthansa Airbus 340. (the 340-300 model, for those who keep track of such things). Ah, Lufthansa has gone to great lengths to improve their business class fittings. Indeed each seat comes with a 14 page manual. (Oops, 14 pages? That should be warning enough.) "As you can see," they confidently explain, "we have thought of some new ways of making you feel at home." Hah! Not my home, thank you. Please, not my home. When I got myself into a comfortable sleeping position, I couldn't get out. Four times in all I was trapped, trapped inside an airline seat. Ah, the joys of a technology whose time has not yet come. Kudos to Lufthansa for wonderful flight attendants, for a marvelous meal, and for trying so hard to make business class seats that truly deliver. If it is the thought that counts, Lufthansa wins. If execution also matters, well, they have some debugging to do.
Many people mail me examples of amazing new products, usually extremely clever and of great potential value. But do they really work? Do they really solve problems? Nobody knows. The designers simply assert that they do. Claims are worthless unless backed up by data. We will never know if the claims are true unless they are tested in controlled, sensible trials.
A challenge to the Industrial Design profession: validate your claims. IDSA could take the lead, especially in their juried exhibits, by requiring submissions to be accompanied by proof. And Business Week: As the most prestigous reporter upon design and products, don't you have an obligation to truth and verification? After all, you require this from your reporting staff. Why not from your awards?
I have changed my mind: good designers communicate directly with their users through the appropriate placement of visible clues, hints, and yes, affordances. Once we start to view design as a form of communication between designer and the user, we see that perceived affordances become an important medium for that communication. Designed affordances play a very special role. Now we see that the designer deliberately places signs and signals on the artifact to communicate with the user. Affordances therefore signify intentions and reasons. They provide a story. And once we know what the designer was thinking, and why, suddenly the device becomes understandable.
A Persona is a valuable design concept, aiding the designer in maintaining an "empathetic focus," providing a common language for communication among the diverse groups who work on a product -- different product groups, engineers, usability specialists, designers, marketing, and executives. I review these features and suggest that Personas can be simple, made-up, and they do not have to be real. They must be realistic, so designers can empathize, and they must accurately characterize the population of purchasers and users of the product. Aside from that, I argue, exhaustive prior research and development for each Persona is not only unnecessary, it is probably a waste of resources. (This essay, I predict, will be highly controversial.)
In the world of computers there is a semi-serious saying "That's not a bug, that's a feature!" which refers to the fact that one can often disguise a bug -- a mistake in design or in programming -- as a "feature" -- claiming that it is worthwhile and even deliberate. (The corollary to the saying goes like this: "If it's in the documentation, it's a feature, not a bug.") Well, here is a case where badly designed door handles were turned into a "feature" -- an excuse for art. Rather than do the door properly -- use different kinds of handles on each side of the door -- they have used the confusion as an excuse to create art -- where the art is almost as confusing as the original, but at least is aesthetically pleasing and even a source of conversation.
July 2003. Most remote controls for watching video and controlling a home theater are device-centered so the task of turning on all the right equipment and setting each to just the right setting is daunting. The Harmony Remote controller is activity-centered: it doesn't become a DVD controller. Instead, it allows you to do the activity of "watching a DVD." The difference is enormous -- and wonderful to behold. Activity-centered design. It works. The first remote control I can recommend without hesitation.
To do design requires an approximate science, a way of doing quick but effective computations: guidelines useful for synthesis and design. Applied discipolines have different needs than scientific ones. Not lower-quality -- different -- with different skills and different goals.
June 2002. (Also published as Norman, D. A. (2002). Emotion and design: Attractive things work better. Interactions Magazine, ix (4), 36-42). Advances in our understanding of emotion and affect have implications for the science of design. Affect changes the operating parameters of cognition: positive affect enhances creative, breadth-first thinking whereas negative affect focuses cognition, enhancing depth-first processing and minimizing distractions. Therefore, it is essential that products designed for use under stress follow good human-centered design, for stress makes people less able to cope with difficulties and less flexible in their approach to problem solving. Positive affect makes people more tolerant of minor difficulties and more flexible and creative in finding solutions. Products designed for more relaxed, pleasant occasions can enhance their usability through pleasant, aesthetic design. Aesthetics matter: attractive things work better.
In the world of design, the term "affordance" has taken on a life far beyond the original meaning. It might help if we return to the original definition. Let me try to clarify the definition of the term and its many uses.
The Psychology of Everyday Things (POET) was about "perceived affordance." If I ever were to revise POET, I would make a global change, replacing all instances of the word "affordance" with the phrase "perceived affordance." The designer cares more about what actions the user perceives to be possible than what is true. Moreover, affordances, both real and perceived, play very different roles in physical products than they do in the world of screen-based products. In the latter case, affordances play a relatively minor role: cultural conventions are much more important
Benway and Lane have studied "Banner Blindness" -- the fact that people tend to ignore those big, flashy, colorful banners at the top of web pages. This is pretty interesting stuff, for the entire reason they are so big and obnoxious is to attract attention, yet they fail. Evidently nobody ever studied real users before -- they simply assumed that big, colorful items were visible. This paper, shows once again the importance of observations over logic when it comes to predicting human behavior.
Design as practiced is considerably different from design as idealized in academic discussions of "good design." Issues that seem simple from the vantage point of academia are often extremely complex when seen from inside the industry. Indeed, the two sides seem hardly to be speaking the same language. In the course of my experiences, I have come to recognize that industry faces numerous problems that are outside of the scope of the traditional analyses of design.
Many advances have been made in our understanding of the hardware and software of information processing systems, but one major gap remains: the inclusion of the human operator into the system analysis. The behavior of an information processing system is not a product of the design specifications: it is a product of the interaction between the human and the system.
Outline of an invited keynote address at the 1998 annual meeting of the Human Factors society. They hated it.
If the customer can't find it, then the customer can't buy it. This simple statement explains why usability is the lifeline of e-commerce.
- All Books
- The Design of Everyday Things, Revised and Expanded Edition
- Living with complexity
- The Design of Future Things
- Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things
- The invisible computer
- Things That Make us Smart: Defending Human Attributes in the Age of the Machine
- Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles
- The Design of Everyday Things