Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Video: Don Norman speaks out about engineering design education

I discovered this short video of me commenting upon the problems of education. It is only three minutes long, but it captures the essence rather well (although obviously I am biased). 

The point is that engineering education, and for that matter, most education in the university, has become deeper and deeper, and as a result narrower and narrower. This means we teach and train specialties and specialists. There are lots of reasons why this is desirable, and the rapid advances being made in science and engineering result from the depth of knowledge.  But this has its downside. 

Practical applications require tying together the knowledge of the many specialties. They require generalists, people who have broad, integrated understanding of the world. Moreover, the specialties are mostly about science and engineering, but our new technologies impact people, lives, cultures, and societies. 

We need people whose understanding goes beyond science and engineering to encompass history, literature, and the arts. We need people who understand both technology and people.  The emphasis on specialized knowledge is bad for society. 

Design education suffers from a similar flaw, with the entire educational period devoted to drawing, rendering, and designing. Designers learn little or nothing about technology, about the social sciences, or about life outside of the design studio.

It is time to change. 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.