Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Most recent essays

(In reverse chronological order, most recent first.)

The Design Lab at UC San Diego Seeks Design Fellows

17 August 2014

(Updated 24 August 2014.) The newly established design initiative at the University of California, San Diego -- The Design Lab -- seeks creative fellows to join us in an exciting adventure to help advance the field of design. The posting includes the official call for applicants.

Hill climbing in radical Innovation

27 July 2014

John Langrish challenged the analysis of Norman & Verganti on Incremental and Radical Innovation, arguing that we had ignored the evidence from Darwinian evolution. He called us "creationists." We find John Langrish's argument to be puzzling. We wrote a paper on product evolution and he chides us for failure to cite the literature in evolutionary biology. Similar issues have been faced in many disciplines. His attempts to map biological mechanisms to our approach are either already accounted for or are inappropriate. We are accused of being creationists. We plead guilty. That's what the field of design is all about: all-seeing, overarching designers who look over their creations and go in and change them. Designers have that luxury. Release a product and call it back for revision. Or completely change the next release, keeping the stuff that worked and deleting the stuff that didn't. Or completely repurpose it for some other usage that had not been considered at first. Radical innovation within the field of design does not come from hill-climbing. It comes from putting together things that never before were thought to belong together. It comes from the heart and mind of the designer. Yes, as designers we are creationists. We teach it, practice it, and take delight in it.

Verganti & Norman: Having a vision is not enough--it must be implemented

13 July 2014

Vision building is the most relevant and rare asset in our society. We do not live in a world where data and knowledge are missing. Indeed, it is just the opposite. The amount of information is overwhelming. What is rare is the capability to make sense of this enormous and complex picture, to go beyond the past and existing patterns and imagine what is not there. The new frontier is to explore the path to innovation by understanding the nature of vision building. For this purpose, we need new frameworks. We need to investigate the slippery intangible dimensions of thinking, the capability to unveil what is hidden into the mirror that reflects our role in the society.

Error Messages Are Evil

10 May 2014

I hate error messages. They are insulting, condescending, and worst of all, completely unnecessary. Evil, nasty little things. They cause us to do unneeded work, and often destroy the work we have already done. Error messages punish people for not behaving like machines. It is time we let people behave like people. When a problem arises, we should call it machine error, not human error: the machine was designed wrong, demanding that we conform to its peculiar requirements. It is time to design and build machines that conform to our requirements. Stop confronting us: Collaborate with us.

Design at UCSD: Think Observe Make

08 May 2014

The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) has asked me to return to help develop a Design program. How could I resist? Starting June 1, I return to be Director of Design at UCSD, housed in the California Institute for Telecommunication and Information Technology (Calit2). We start off with strong support across the campus. Our governing committee consists of faculty from theater, visual arts, and the schools of management, engineering, and social sciences. We hope to launch seminars, symposia, a lecture series, courses, and an annual conference, preaching and developing a truly interdisciplinary field of design, integrating across the disciplines, combining art, science, technology and people. It is too early to announce specific plans and programs. Moreover, we are intentionally vague because the creativity and efforts of the group we bring together will move us forward in ways we cannot predict. We plan to invite both practitioners and researchers, the better to advance design in important, creative, and exciting new ways. We welcome partnerships with Industry and Universities.

Human Error? No, Bad Design

13 April 2014

new essay on LinkedIn: http://goo.gl/l4oWi0 . 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.

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