Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Everything bad is good for you: How today's popular culture is actually making us smarter.

This book gets an A+ for creativity, originality, and sheer ingeniousness. But creditability? I give it an I: I for Incomplete.

Johnson has put forth a delightful argument that the complexity and richness of modern video games, television shows, and movies require so much active participation from players and viewers, so much active engagement and problem solving, that rather than being the mindless, mind-numbing time-wasters of popular criticism, these activities strengthen problem-solving and reasoning abilities.

To this end, he launches a vigorous defense, complete with clever charts that demonstrate the complexity of today's games and shows.

Alas, every beginning psychology student knows why we require unbiased, blind judges to assess such issues as complexity, why we require data rather than clever argumentation. Johnson created his own analyses, which makes them susceptible to all sorts of biases, both conscious and unconscious. Moreover, he deliberately focuses upon the complexity of the game and show structure, not the content, and he argues that content doesn't matter. Hah. Even if his hypotheses are correct, there is no evidence — nor does Johnson pretend there is — that the enhanced problem-solving skills come along with advanced understanding of how to create a logical argument, how to reason from evidence, and how to reach sustainable, justifiable conclusions.

So, I have to conclude that the book presents a fascinating argument, one worthy of deep consideration. But I don't believe the arguments, not yet anyway. Mind you, he might be correct: it's simply that the evidence presented in the book is not sufficient to know.

So read the book. Think about it. Debate it. And please, will some social scientists pick up the cause and do the proper, correct analyses to judge the worthiness of the hypotheses. Until then: not proven.

Link to book at