Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Most recent essays

(In reverse chronological order, most recent first.)

Human Error? No, Bad Design

13 April 2014

new essay on LinkedIn: . When there are accidents, injuries, and deaths the first reaction is often to claim "human error," blaming the last person to have touched the controls. That is why the problems persist: we punish the innocent and do not remedy the underlying causes. We won't solve these problems until we stop blaming people, until we admit that bad design of equipment and procedures is most often the culprit. We need to instill a people-centered attitude in the training of engineers and technologists. It is time to stop blaming people and instead to design for people. Fix the real, underlying problems: the lack of people-centered design of equipment and procedures.

State of Design: How Design Education Must Change

20 March 2014

For design to succeed, grow, achieve its potential, and train future leaders, we envision a new curriculum. In our vision, these new programs combine learning the art and craft of beautiful, pleasurable well-crafted design with substantive courses in the social and biological sciences, in technology, mathematics and statistics, and in the understanding of experimental methods and rigorous reasoning. Programming and mechatronics are essential skills in today's product world. Not only will this training make for better practitioners, but it will also equip future generations of designers to be better at developing the hard, rigorous theory design requires. Design is an exciting powerful field, filled with promise. To meet the challenges of the 21st century, design and design education must change. So too must universities.

Gestural Control: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

20 March 2014

I await the day when gestures become standardized. When systems combine the best of all worlds: gestures, both in the air and on surfaces, voice commands where appropriate, and menus, keyboards, and pointing devices where appropriate. The most powerful systems will give us the choice to use whatever is best suited for the job. But before we can do this, we have a simple task to do: reform the patent system.

Stupid Smart Stuff: Watches and Automation

08 March 2014

Whenever you see something labeled "smart" or "intelligent," be assured that it is actually rather stupid. It is time to for the designers and engineers of this coming automated world and take heed from the lessons learned over the years in the field of Human-Systems Integration, in studies of automation. Lots of excellent scientists working in the research labs of automobile companies know all this. Product people are notorious about ignoring the wisdom of research groups in their same company. We now have very smart devices, stupidly done. I fear the consequences will be a lot worse than waking people up at 4:30 in the morning. Pay attention, engineers: pay attention, designers. Pay attention or people will be killed.

Nutrition, Nudges, and Sledge Hammers

01 March 2014

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed changing the labels now required on all foodstuff. The goal is to nudge people to better eating. The good part is that, the FDA has clearly thought about the legibility and clarity of nutritional guidelines. Not only did they decide to make the calorie count more visible, but they made the percentage values more prominent, they reconsidered what information was to be listed, and perhaps most important of all, they changed the definition of "a serving" to what people really eat. What is next? ... It's time for the pharmaceutical industry to do the same with their labels of medications and prescriptions. It's a systems problem. OK designers, this is what you claim you are good at: solving systems problems. Get to work: you could save lives.

Why Rice Cookers Are Exciting

20 February 2014

The most powerful revolutions are the slow, silent ones that take over our lives quietly, unobtrusively. No media attention, no over-hyped excitement. But one day you look up and, oops, what has happened? Consider the everyday rice cooker. It seems rather dull: a squat box occupying space on the countertop, usually without any grace or sense of style. Yet this unimpressive appearing cooking device now simplifies the lives of tens of millions of owners all over the world. Excerpts from my first "influencer" post on LinkedIn

Stop Cellphone Anorexia: Make Batteries Last the Day. A Rant.

04 February 2014

How can we get the batteries on our smart phones to last the entire day? Make them bigger. Eliminate phone anorexia. The evil is the cult of thinness. Phone Anorexia. Want to make batteries last beyond the day? Make them bigger. it is that simple. Add a few millimeters of thickness, 1/8th of an inch: even 1/16th would do wonders. That's all it would take.

Floorplan Light Switches

26 January 2014

Once upon a time, a long time ago, I got tired of light switches that contained a long, one-dimensional linear array of switches mounted on a vertical wall controlling a two-dimensional placement of lights that were placed on a horizontal plane. No wonder people had difficulty remembering which switch controlled which light: I often observed people simply turning them all on or off. Why not arrange the switches in the same spatial configuration as the lights, and then mount the switches on the same spatial plane as the lights. Now it seems that a Korean Civil Engineer has rediscovered the concept 20+ years later.

Foreword: Computers as Theater (Brenda Laurel)

18 October 2013

Theatre is about interaction, about themes and conflicts, goals and approaches to those goals, frustration, success, tension, and then the resolution of those tensions. Theatre is dynamic, changing, always in motion. Our modern technologies with their powerful computers, multiple sensors, communication links and displays are also about interaction, and treating that interaction as Theatre proves to be rich, enlightening and powerful. Real interaction does not take place in the moment, on a fixed, static screen. Real interaction is ongoing over a protracted period. It ebbs and flows, transitions from one state to another. Transitions are as important as states. Up to recently, the only computer systems that acted this way were games. But as students of the theatre have long known, we get the greatest pleasure from our ability to overcome early failures and adversaries. If everything runs perfectly and smoothly with no opportunity to deploy our powers and skills, pleasure is diminished. Human emotion is sensitive to change: starting low and ending high is a far better experience than one that is always high. Is this a cry for deliberate placement of obstacles and confusions? Obviously not, but it is a cry for a look at the temporal dimensions, at engagement, agency, and the rise and fall of dramatic tension. The future of our interactions with technology will build upon the foundations provided by Brenda Laurel in this deep, thought-provoking, and critically important book.