Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group


(In reverse chronological order, most recent first.)

The driverless car revolution must proceed with caution

24 March 2018

Recently, one of Uber's autonomous automobiles was involved in an accident where a pedestrian was killed. What lesson should we learn from this incident? The potential for autonomous vehicles to produce tremendous saving of lives and injuries while increasing our quality of life provides strong support for the eventual introduction of fully automated vehicles. Nonetheless, just as new medicines and medical devices enhance lives, but their introduction is done cautiously, with carefully controlled tests certified by a trusted, neutral agency or company (e.g., FDA for medicine, FAA for aviation, UL for home appliances), we must do the same with our autonomous vehicles.

Then and Now: The Bauhaus and 21st century design

24 December 2017

The Bauhaus movement in Germany, roughly 1919-1933, marked a major turning point for design and its role in society. It exerted a powerful and influential role in the development of artist style. But today, for many designers, it is more of a historical curiosity than a role model. Why? What has changed? Aristotle is considered one of the forerunners of the scientific movement, even as his actual words and writings of science and technology are completely ignored by today's working scientists. That is how I feel about the Bauhaus movement: I am grateful for what it accomplished, but I do not find it relevant to the complex issues we face today.

You can't predict the future by inventing it

03 September 2017

In 1963, Dennis Gabor, Nobel laureate for his invention of the holograph, said "The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented" (Gabor, 1963). This statement has become a mantra in recent times, attributed to many who are simply rephrasing Gabor. Alas, the slogan, wonderful though it may sound, is false. The most successful inventions transform the world in ways that are impossible to foresee at the time of the invention. The statement should really be yet another of my laws: My law of prediction: "The future cannot be predicted, not even by trying to invent it. Although inventions can change the future, their long-term impact cannot be predicted." So, invent all you like, just don't try to predict the impact several decades later.

Seeing the unforeseen follies of autonomous vehicles

18 August 2017

Fully autonomous vehicles? Programmed to be safe, not to crash into me? Hey!  I can ignore it. Drive or walk the street in front of it, regardless of traffic lights.  Deliberately stand in front at an intersection, preventing it from moving forward. Hold a mirror in front of its video or laser sensors - that ought to confuse it.  What a wonderful source for entertainment, tricks, and trouble making. Yup, autonomous vehicles.Norman, D. (2017). Foreseeing an unforeseen consequence. Perspective. Summer...

Technology Forces Us To Do Things We're Bad At. Time To Change How Design Is Done

28 January 2017

Distractibility isn't a human problem; it's a design problem, writes usability expert Don Norman. We need to reverse the normal technological strategy of asking people to fill in for gaps in machine performance. Instead, we should require machines to fill in for gaps in human performance. After all, technology was invented to enhance people's lives, not the other way around. Let's build technologies that empower us, allow us to use our creative abilities, and relieve us of the stuff we are not good at.

The Challenges of Partially Automated Driving

01 May 2016

I am pleased to say that my paper with Steve Casner and Ed Hutchins, The Challenges of Partially Automated Driving, has been published in the Communications of the ACM. The creation of most-automated vehicles provides major challenges for us. For a long time I( have argued that the most dangerous part of the transition from manual to full automation is when the job is mostly complete -- which is precisely where we are today. The argument has been made many times. first by Lisanne Bainbridge in 1983 -- 33 years ago! I made the argument in 1990. Nothing has changed. In this paper, we once again warn that partial automation lulls drivers into a false sense of security. Moreover, people are especially bad at maintaining vigilance and a sense of situation awareness for long periods when nothing is happening or when their assistance is not needed. In the year 2014 (the latest year for which statistics are available), there was roughly one death for every 100 million vehicle miles. One per 100 million miles. Even so, there were over 33 million deaths in the United States plus roughly 1 million injuries. American drove almost 3 trillion miles.

The Future of Design: When you come to a fork in the road, take it

23 April 2016

Design started out as a craft, primarily focusing upon the creation of beautiful objects to become a powerful force in industry. Today, design has gone far beyond its simple origins as a craft to develop powerful new ways for people to interact with the world, emphasizing experience, not technology. Moreover, it has evolved into a way of thinking, of problem discovery, and of enhancing the lives of individuals, the experience of the workforce, and even the health of the planet. Are these new developments compatible with the craft traditions of the old? Is this a fork in the road, with some continuing the craft tradition of enhancing the emotional experiences of our products and others taking the other path, moving design thinking into all endeavors, but far removed from the history and mainstream practice of today. What is the future of design? We are at a fork: Which path should we take? I take my answer from the famed American baseball player Yogi Berra who said, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

Interview: Is Tesla Racing Recklessly Towards Driverless Cars?

23 April 2016

Chunka Mui wrote to say he was writing an article on autonomous cars and asked for my thoughts.  He published his article in Forbes , and before I knew it, I was suddenly front and center into the debate about Tesla and autonomy.Here is the article: here is my response to the (fortunately very few) complaints.  People really love their teslas and do not like any criticism.My reply is:Yes, I have experienced Tesla's autopilot (as well as the pre-release models from other OEMs)....

Vox Media on Norman Doors. 'Bad doors are everywhere'

27 February 2016

A video that is both instructional and fun. The article text concludes by saying "Don Norman's seminal book on design, The Design of Everyday Things, ... (p)ublished 25 years ago, it remains just as relevant today. Doors shouldn't need instructions. When most people complain about something, nothing happens. But Norman is not most people -- he's a psychologist and cognitive scientist. So his writing about his complaints is so incredibly thorough that he changed the way design works. And the "human-centered design" revolution he sparked changed not only how designers work, but also how people in fields like public health work to make the world a better place. This is why Melinda Gates believes human-centered design is one change that could save the world. To find out what all this has to do with crappy doors, watch the video."

In memory of Naomi Miyake

10 November 2015

Naomi Miyake, a brilliant Japanese researcher, a close friend and colleague, and one of my early PhD students, died this year (2015). Here are my reflections on her carer, published in the japanese Cognitive Science Society's journal: Cognitive Studies, 22(4), 1-38. (Dec. 2015)

The "science" in the science of design

18 October 2015

Design is a complex field. Some components of design already are based upon good science, usually from the behavioral and cognitive sciences. Some are at the pre-scientific level of understanding. I believe that with a proper attitude toward evidence-based studies, these areas can also become either scientific, or at least rigorously proven to be effective when used under well-understood circumstances. Some aspects of design seem primarily based upon human creativity, sense of style, and other socially mediated conventions. These may never be scientific, but they do play a critically important role in the quality and acceptance of design. So, can design be a science? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Can it be empirically based, evidence driven? Yes. Will it have to reply on intuition and the creativity of individual designers? Sometimes, yes. Design is a multi-faceted, complex enterprise. It involves the initial choice of what to make, a deep understanding of people, of materials, and of technology. It requires understanding how people decide upon purchase, and then use products. It covers an extremely wide range of activities and different disciplines of study and training. It is this depth and richness that makes design such a wonderful, fascinating field.

Affordances: Commentary on the Special Issue of AI EDAM

18 October 2015

The Journal "Artificial Intelligence for Engineering Design, Analysis and Manufacturing" published a special issue on Affordances and asked me to comment on the collection. The concept of affordances has an interesting history, starting with the keen observations and thoughts of the perceptual psychologist, J.J. Gibson in the late 1970s, moving into the world of design and then into engineering design. As a result of this disciplinary migration, the concept of affordance leads several rather separate lives within these different fields -- ecological psychology, Design, and engineering design -- with each field barely aware of the work being done in the others. All communities make valuable contributions from their perspective of the issue. I continue to look forward to a merging of disciplines, where the insights of all fields can be brought together to form a new, harmonious whole, with many new and exciting emergent properties.

Encounters with HCI pioneers

18 October 2015

From the very beginnings of time, Ben Shneiderman has been busy photographing all that he sees. Ben was active in the pre-history days of the folks who tried to understand the newly-developed computing machines, especially as they moved into people's homes, offices, and schools. Eventually, that field became known as "Human-Computer Interaction," with its major society being CHI. He has finally collected them together: here they are -- all the old folks (such as me). Such old folks portrayed by photos from their youth, so I can barely recognize some of them: I can barely recognize me.

Ready or not, the fully autonomous car is coming

18 October 2015

My Op-Ed piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune for September 26, 2015. ... Ready for cars with computers as driver? No? Good, because the computers aren't ready either. But have no doubt, they are coming. ... The tremendous saving of lives and injuries is strong support for the development of autonomous vehicles. However, the relentless automation of all that can be automated is not a good thing for society.

Apple's products are getting harder to use because they ignore principles of design.

10 August 2015

I was once proud to be at Apple, proud of Apple's reputation of advancing ease of use and understanding. Alas, these attributes are fast disappearing from their products in favor of pretty looks, or as designers call it "styling." A journalist has just reported my views. And Bruce Tognazzini and I are writing a detailed critique. This note gives highlights of the views and points to her interview with me..

A Product Is More than a Product -- Consider the Chair

25 July 2015

Imagine how the 21st century chair might perk up when guests arrive, autonomously transforming itself as needed. It can become a stepstool when someone needs to stand on it, or a bed, perhaps formed by enlisting other chairs so that they can to support a horizontal body or two or three. When self-organized into neat orderly rows of its collaborators, the chair can accommodate crowds. While awaiting the crowd's arrival the chairs are a memory of the future, reminding us of the event that is to come. After they leave, the same chairs serve as a memory of the past. These 21st century chairs are social, aiming to please. They will be active servants, relationship builders, and enablers of social interactions. In the 21st century designers will produce many things besides chairs, many of which will not be objects. Some will be services and experiences, such as healthcare and wellness. Some will be ideas. Is an idea a thing, a product, a service? Whatever they are called, they need to be designed not as isolated things but as complex, interrelated systems, as total experiences. As relationships.

Automatic Cars Or Distracted Drivers: We Need Automation Sooner, Not Later

03 June 2015

I have long argued that we need to go slow with automation in the automobile. There were still too many unsolved problems. I have now changed my mind. Why? Because there are far more problems with the increasing number of distractions for drivers, too many new devices, too many new temptations. Imperfect driving is potentially more dangerous than imperfect automation. Add to this the other benefits to those today who are unable to drive: the elderly, the handicapped, and of course the blind. Automation versus distraction? I bet on automation, and the sooner the better.

UC San Diego Postdoc in Human-Centered Healthcare

14 May 2015

The Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego is embarking upon a large, major project in healthcare for complex problems. We are working with the Medical School, various departments at UC San Diego, and several funding agencies in this endeavor. The emphasis is on the processes and structure associated with modern healthcare. We seek a Design Fellow to assist with a project to better understand the complex cognitive ecosystem of healthcare who can help us define, explore, and implement new processes and procedures aimed at improving medical care for complex cases.

Positive computing: technology for wellbeing and human potential (Calvo & Peters)

04 January 2015

The design of human-computer systems used to focus upon the negative, the breakdowns that confused and confounded people. Now it is time to move to the next level, to focus upon the positive, systems that are enjoyable and pleasurable. We need systems that delight as well as inform, systems that create pleasure along with useful function. We need systems that are resilient, that promote control, understanding, and sometimes just plain pleasure. The design field has responded by examining the role of emotions and pleasure in design. We need to move these findings into mainstream computing.

Why Procrastination Is Good

25 December 2014

Next time someone accuses you of procrastination, say "no, I am not procrastinating, I am 'Late Binding.' " That should shut them up. Let me argue for late binding - delay, or if you like, procrastination - as a preferred way of life. Delaying decisions until the time for action is beneficial for lots of reason. Practice late binding. Planning never produces the exact answer for the exact conditions that take place. People always will change their behavior. In fact, people have no choice when unexpected events occur. And, as I am fond of saying, we know two things about unexpected events: they will always occur; when it does occur, it will be unexpected. So prepare. Study. Get ready. But delay the actual decision as late as possible. Procrastinate. Practice late binding.

The Human Side of Automation

25 December 2014

The technological requirements for self-driving cars are extremely complex, and although we are now able to succeed in a very high percentage of the situations, those last few percentages contain the most difficult, the most daunting challenges. As automation gets better and better, then the problems of vigilance increase, for the more reliable the system, the less for a person to do, and the mind wandering begins. Do not take people out of the loop: have them always know what is happening. How do we do this in a meaningful way? By asking people to make high-level decisions, to continually be making decisions. Human pattern recognition and high-level statement of goals and plans are good. But here is what we are bad at: the ability to monitor for long periods, to be precise and accurate, to respond quickly and properly when an unexpected event arrives where the person has not been attending. So, have us do what we are good at. Have the automation do what we are bad at. Aim for collaboration, not supervision.

Why DesignX?

13 December 2014

"Why DesignX" answers common questions about DesignX. In particular, What is new? What is the role of the designer? What about craft skills?

DesignX: A Future Path for Design

02 December 2014

DesignX is a new, evidence-based approach for addressing many of the complex and serious problems facing the world today. It adds to and augments today's design methods, reformulating the role that design can play. Modern design has grown from a focus on products and services to a robust set of methods that is applicable to a wide range of societal issues. When combined with the knowledge and expertise of specialized disciplines, these design methods provide powerful ways to develop practical approaches to large, complex issues. We seek a radical reformation of design practice, education, and research. It is time for a new era of design activism.

A Great Product Ruined

20 September 2014

LG. get your act together. Every so often I can't stop myself from complaining. This is one of those every so oftens. No visibility. Insufficient tactile differentiation among the controls. No labeling of which side is right and which left which matters, both because these are stereo earphones and because the identical looking and feeling buttons do different things on the two sides of the device. Manuals that use incredibly tiny type small type in gray on a black background. Badly written as well, but we have come to take that as standard. Usually we can figure things out anyway by playing with the controls. Not these controls. They are invisible in use (deliberate), but with insufficient tactile distinction, with the left controls identical to the right one, but doing different things, and no way of knowing which is left and which right, so on each usage, they will vary randomly.

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: . 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.

The Paradox of Wearable Technologies

24 July 2013

Can wearable devices be helpful? Absolutely. But they can also be horrid. It all depends upon whether we use them to focus and augment our activities or to distract. It is up to us, and up to those who create these new wearable wonders to decide which it is to be.

Microinteractions (My Foreword)

02 June 2013

Great microinteraction design requires understanding the people who use the product, what they are trying to accomplish, and the steps they need to take. it requires understanding the context of those interactions. It is essential to develop empathy with the user, to develop observational skills of users and the knowledge of how to combine different aspects of your product - perhaps the results of different programming teams or even different divisions - into a single, smooth microinteraction? Chapter 1 does a great job of introducing the principles of how to do this. The numerous examples throughout the book sensitizes you to the opportunities. After that it is up to you, to continual observation that leads to discovery of the opportunities. And it is essential not to be blocked, as Apple's developers apparently were, if the solutions require cutting across company organizational structures. After all, doing things right for the user is what great products are all about.

Evil by Design (My Foreword)

02 June 2013

Sloth, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony. What? I'm supposed to design for these traits? As a human-centered designer, I should be repelled by the thought of designing for such a list. What was Chris Nodder thinking? What was his publisher thinking? This is evil, amplified. Although, come to think of it, those seven deadly sins are human traits. Want to know how people really behave? Just read the law books. Start with one of the most famous set of laws of all, the Ten Commandments. Every one of those commandments is about something that people actually did, and then prohibiting it. All laws are intended to stop or otherwise control human behavior. So, if you want to understand real human behavior, just see what the laws try to stop. The list of seven deadly sins provides a nice, tidy statement of fundamental human behavior, fundamental in the sense that from each of the deadly sins, one can derive a large list of less deadly ones.

Why We Fail (My Foreword)

02 June 2013

Embrace failure, avoid failure: these two, apparently contradictory statements are the opening and closing chapter titles of Victor Lombardi's enchanting, insightful book. Embrace, yet avoid, the apparent contradiction being resolved by recognizing that the trick is to learn from other people's failures, the better to be able to avoid them for yourself. The message of the book is summarized by its subtitle: "Lessons from Experience Design Failures."

Opportunities and Challenges For Touch and Gesture-Based Systems

02 June 2013

Billions of people appreciate the simplicity of touch technology, but for the industrial sector, including home white goods and consumer goods, rugged conditions have been a roadblock to integrating this technology. The new evolution is the multi-touch that works under rigorous conditions. Even though multi-touch screens are widely popular on today's consumer phones and tablets the design principles for industrial applications and demanding environments are different for those in the rather controlled consumer environment for mobile phones and tablets. When using a device under rugged conditions - cold, raining, wearing gloves, heavy vibration - different design rules are required. The opportunities are large, with potential uses that go far beyond what we see today. Great opportunity brings great challenges. We explore the requirements and the design rules for overcoming them.

Suggested Readings From Design of Everyday Things, Revised edition

19 May 2013

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.

Rethinking Design Thinking

18 March 2013

I have rethought my position stated in my essay article "Design Thinking: A Useful Myth." 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.

Great Design Always Means Great Style (Misc Magazine)

27 January 2013

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.

Gadgets? Who, me? (Misc Magazine)

27 January 2013

(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.

Complexity is Good, Simplicity Overrated (Misc Magazine)

27 January 2013

(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.

Manufacturing, Design, and Innovation

01 October 2012

An expanded version of my welcoming address to the "Workshop on Building the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation." The conference was to address the demise of manufacturing in the US. I tell two stories. The first is about a startup (I'm on the board) that now manufactures in China. Why? Financing, supply chain, and supplier availability. The second is why both Northwestern's MMM MBA/Engineering and MIT's LfM MBA/Engineering programs removed "manufacturing" from their names. I conclude with optimism, arguing that the US still leads in Design and Innovation, and bringing Manufacturing back will strengthen our abilities. And the new Makers and DYI communities coupled with 3D (additive) manufacturing methods creates a Disruptive Innovation that will enable a revolution in manufacturing.

What Moves? Culture & Interaction Design

10 July 2012

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 and )

How To Find a Job or Graduate School in Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction, or Industrial Design

05 July 2012

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.

Automobile Reviewers: Stuck in the Past

31 May 2012

Like many of you, I live in the 21st century, a time when society is recognizing the damage done to the environment through our inattention to the side effects of our technologies. But one specialized niche of the world still lives in the 20th century: those who write the automobile reviews for magazines and newspapers. Why do automobile reviewers still emphasize appearance (styling), speed, and performance at high speed, often to the exclusion of all else? It is time for a change. Let's have reviewers who do not dwell on the latest exterior design details, horsepower, or acceleration. Let's have reviews addressed to real people and families, reviews that emphasize the environment and the health and safety of both drivers and passengers. Time to enter the 21st Century.

The Future of Automobiles (An Interview)

16 May 2012

I was interviewed by Neil Briscoe for an article in Is the love affair about to end? "Are cars as we know them to become a thing of the past?" asks the article. Where is the room for "Driving passion"? The question, Briscoe points out, is whether we can continue to have single people driving around, each in a ton and a half of metal.

Incremental and Radical Innovation: Design Research versus Technology and Meaning Change

18 March 2012

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.

My Dream: The Rise of the Small

29 February 2012

Steelcase celebrated its 100th anniversary by asking 100 people to write essays about their dreams for the next 100 years. It is an impressive list of people and i am honored to be one of them. My essay, my dream is "the rise of the small." Here is the start: I dream of the power of individuals, whether alone or in small groups, to unleash their creative spirits, their imagination, and their talents to develop a wide range of innovation.

Yet Another Technology Cusp: Confusion, Vendor Wars, and Opportunities

07 January 2012

There is a technological revolution in the air, not because new principles and technologies have been discovered, but because so many past technologies have simultaneously reached a state of maturity that they can be incorporated into everyday technology. These cusps in technology produce new opportunities, but until the marketplace settles down, they also deliver considerable confusion and chaos. Each of the changes discussed here seems relatively minor and inconsequential, but taken as a whole, they pose considerable problems and potential risks.

Does Culture Matter for Product Design?

03 January 2012

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?

Conversation: Jon Kolko & Don Norman mediated by Richard Anderson

17 December 2011

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.

Design Education: Brilliance Without Substance

27 August 2011

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.

Gesture Wars

19 August 2011

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.

Act First, Do the Research Later

31 July 2011

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.

The Design Dilemma: Dismay vs. Delight

17 June 2011

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.

Videos from Design of Everyday Things

16 February 2011

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 Have Seen the Future and I Am Opposed

14 February 2011

I have seen the future, and if it turns out the way it is headed, I am opposed. I fear our free and continual access to information and services is doomed to be replaced by tightly controlled gardens of exclusivity. It is time to rethink the present, for it determines the future.

Why Design Education Must Change

03 December 2010

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.

Why Human Systems Integration Fails (And Why the University Is the Problem)

03 December 2010

The field of Human Factors and its many descendants -- Cognitive Engineering, Human-Computer Interaction, Cognitive Ergonomics, Human-Systems Integration, ... -- has made numerous, wonderful advances in the many decades since the enterprise began. But the discipline still serves many to rescue rather than to create. It is time for a change. HSI must become an applied discipline, not just a research activity, not just a science (it needs all three: science, research, practice). The problem is this: suppose, magically, HSI was asked to take part in all new projects from the very start. No more fire-fighting. Would HSI be able to deliver? I don't think so. HSI has to stop being an analytical field doing analysis after the fact and become a design field, synthesizing answers on the spot. Providing answers in hours or days, not in six months. Doing quick and dirty experiments and quick calculations to ensure that the designs are "good enough." Practical designs look for large effects. Traditional science looks for small differences. HSI has to change how it thinks. Today, HSI Is not ready for real time. We need a special certification program (ideally offering a Masters Degree in HSI project management) for the management of projects involving HSI. Universities need to change. Not only are they too narrow, but they keep disciplinary walls that inhibit cross-fertilization. Professors lack practical experience and usually feel that such experience is inferior in value to theoretical and research skills. So practice is not rewarded. Only publications in refereed, research-based journals are recognized. The separation of the social and behavioral sciences from engineering is most unfortunate: they need one another. But the social and behavioral sciences shun applications except to proclaim in incredible naiveté the fanciful applications of their work, but without actually trying to do the applications. And the engineering disciplines ignore the human factor, even though, in theory, engineering builds and designs for human use and benefit. (Of course, given the theoretical bent of modern engineering, it seldom actually builds anything.) It is time for a change.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

27 November 2010

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.

Design Without Designers

27 November 2010

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. Design by comparison of competing alternatives is design by hill climbing. It will get you to the top of the current hill. It will never get you to the highest hill.

Systems Thinking: A Product Is More Than the Product

03 September 2010

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.

Why Great Ideas Can Fail

03 September 2010

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.

Why Design Contests Are Bad

02 August 2010

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.)

Design Thinking: A Useful Myth

28 June 2010

Design thinking is not special to design. Great artists, great engineers, great scientists all break out of the boundaries. Great designers are no different. Why perpetuate the myth of design thinking if it is so clearly false? Because it is useful. Design thinking is a powerful public relations term that changes the way in which design firms are viewed. So, long live the phrase "design thinking." It will help in the transformation of design from the world of form and style to that of function and structure. It will help spread the word that designers can add value to almost any problem, from healthcare to pollution, business strategy and company organization.

Gestural Interfaces: A Step Backwards In Usability

28 May 2010

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.

Talk: Research Practice Gap & 2 Kinds of innovation

28 May 2010

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.

The Research-Practice Gap

03 April 2010

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.

Natural User Interfaces Are Not Natural

03 April 2010

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.

Technology First, Needs Last

05 December 2009

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.


02 October 2009

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.

When Security Gets in the Way

01 August 2009

If we ever are to have systems with adequate security and privacy that people are willing to use, then the three fields of Security, Privacy, and Usability must work together as a team. Without usable systems, the security and privacy simply disappears as people defeat the processes in order to get their work done. We have a wonderful design challenge before us. It is time to make systems that are more secure, that enhance privacy, and that are still eminently usable. We need systems that are effective at performing their tasks, while providing high quality of user experience at reasonable cost. The solution is going to require sensible analyses, the development of appropriate technologies probably including automation, enhanced interaction protocols and interfaces with better feedback, and the development and continual communication to support the development of an appropriate conceptual models. The only way this will happen is if all parties work together as a team from the start. With notable exceptions, the security and privacy concerns have been addressed by the security and privacy experts, coupled with the arbitrary rules and policies of system administrators, where these concerns have been tacked on to existing systems as afterthoughts.

Designing the Infrastructure

01 August 2009

It is time to work on infrastructure. It threatens to dominate our lives with ugliness, frustration, and work. We need to spend more time on the designs for infrastructure. We need to make it more attractive, more accessible, and easier to maintain. Infrastructure is intended to be hidden, to provide the foundation for everyday life. If we do not respond, it will dominate our lives, preventing us attending to our priory concerns and interests and instead, just keeping ahead of the maintenance demands.

Compliance and Tolerance

01 August 2009

Our computer systems are still far too intolerant of everyday human behavior. The systems demand strict adherence to their requirements. This essay recommends changing the battleground. Bring it back to human terms: ask for compliance and tolerance. Compliance and tolerance means to allow inconsequential deviation from a rigid format. Allow dates and telephone numbers in any form that a person would understand. Allow flexibility, allow tolerance for small deviations. No dramatic scientific breakthroughs are required, simply a different philosophy. Those are new concepts for designers, but concepts that are easy to understand. Ask our engineers, programmers, and fellow designers to aim at compliant systems, tolerant systems.

Memory is more important than actuality

01 August 2009

An experience exists only for that brief moment of time we call "the present." The memory of the experience can last an entire lifetime. It is the memory that matters, and as much experimental evidence demonstrates, memory is a highly distorted view of actuality. So what does this mean to the designer? Design for memory. Exploit it. What is the most important part of an experience? Psychologists emphasize what they call the primacy and recency effects, with recency being the most important. In other words, what is most important? The ending. What is next most important? The start. So make sure the beginning and the end are wonderful. Make sure there are reminders of the good parts of the experience: Photographs, mementos, trinkets. Make sure the experience delights, whether it be the simple unfolding of a car's cup holder or the band serenading departing cruise ship customers. Accent the positive and it will overwhelm the memory for the negative.

Selective Memories (Metropolis Magazine article)

24 March 2009

"Life is filled with unpleasant experiences. Not only do we survive them, but in hindsight we tend to minimize the bad and amplify the good." This is the start of my essay "Selective Memories" published by Metropolis Magazine.

My TED talk

24 March 2009

TED is a fascinating conference. I've given two talks there over the years and serve on their advisory board. TED used to be a by-invitation conference only, but now it is open to anyone who can afford the rather outrageous registration fee.  Recently, TED has begun to make their talks available to anyone. I highly recommend exploring the site: there are some truly amazing, profound talks available: TED is at My talk from 2003 is on "Design and Emotion"  (based...

People Are From Earth, Machines Are From Outer Space

14 November 2008

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.

Signifiers, not affordances

14 November 2008

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.

CNN Designers challenged to include disabled

01 November 2008

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.

The Psychology of Waiting Lines

19 August 2008

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.

Sociable Design - Introduction

19 August 2008

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 “please” and “thank you.” 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.

Simplicity Is Not the Answer

19 August 2008

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.

Workarounds - Leading Edge of Innovation

19 August 2008

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.

Why is 37signals so arrogant?

07 March 2008

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.

Waiting: A Necessary Part of Life

17 February 2008

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.

A Fetish for Numbers: Hospital Care

17 February 2008

I've been spending a lot of time in hospitals recently. No, not as a patient, as an observer — following doctors and nurses on their grand rounds, watching patients get admitted, nurses doing shift changes, pharmacists filling prescriptions, and then watching nurses actually deliver the prescribed medication to their patients, waving barcode readers over the prescriptions, the medication, and the patients. The modern hospital is a complex system, with multiple complex interactions among people, equipment, laws, institutions, and a confusing wealth of information. It is time to turn our attention to the multiple interfaces and design issues within this complex system. Healthcare is a problem that needs immediate attention. We need to start now, for the issues are life-threatening.

Filling Much Needed Holes

21 September 2007

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.

Automobile in HCI's Future-2

21 September 2007

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.

UI Breakthroughs-2-Physicality

21 September 2007

We have evolved as physical creatures. We live in a complex, three-dimensional world filled with physical objects. We are analog beings in an artificial world of digital devices, devices that abstract what is powerful and good from the physical world and turn it into information spaces, usually in arbitrary ways. These new approaches put the body back into the picture. They require us to control through physical action, which means through mechanical devices, not electronic or graphic, through physical rather than virtual.

UI Breakthrough-Command Line Interfaces

07 February 2007

Want to know what I think the next UI breakthroughs will be? Here is one: Command line languages. Did you think they were dead? Forever vanguished by graphical user interaces? Think again. Search engines have added command structures, and now these have migrated to the desktop. The new command line interfaces still have a way to go. They have appeared serendipitously, as system developers slowly expanded the capabilities of search tools. But now it is time to recognize them for what they are â€" and for how much better they could become. Command line interfaces. Once that was all we had. Then they disappeared, replaced by what we thought was a great advance: GUIs. GUIs were â€" and still are â€" valuable, but they fail to scale to the demands of today’s systems. So now command line interfaces are back again, hiding under the name of search. Now you see them, now you don’t. Now you see them again. And they will get better and better with time: mark my words, that is my prediction for the future of interfaces.

Simplicity Is Highly Overrated

09 December 2006

Yes, we want simplicity, but we don’t want to give up any of those cool features. Simplicity is highly overrated.

Three Challenges for Design

09 December 2006

The invisible, ubiquitous computer has arrived, ensnaring almost any conceivable activity within its grasp. This raises wonderful opportunities and challenges to the field of human-computer interaction, for if the computer is everywhere, then everything is within our domain of study.

It is time to consider where the next application areas might be. As I look to the future, I see numerous domains of concern, but with three large, overriding issues:

The ever-increasing complexity of everyday things
The ever-increasing burden of security, authentication, and identification
The ever-increasing use of automation

Cautious Cars & Cantankerous Kitchens

22 September 2006

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.

Logic Versus Usage: The Case for Activity-Centered Design

17 July 2006

In my consulting activities, I often have to explain to companies that they are too logical, too rational. Human behavior seldom follows mathematical logic and reasoning. By the standards of engineers, human behavior can be illogical and irrational. From the standpoint of people, however, their behavior is quite sensible, dictated by the activity being performed, the environment and context, and their higher-level goals. Activity-centered design organizes according to usage: traditional human-centered design organizes according to topic, in isolation, outside the context of real, everyday use. Both are needed.

Dashboards for the Passengers

10 June 2006

Drivers have dashboards. But what about the passengers, both in the front and rear seats? Why shouldn’t they too have dashboards? Today, we need places to store and plug in a wide variety of devices: music and video players, game machines and controllers, earphones, cellphones, and computers. Each needs a safe, secure place to be docked, each needs electrical power, and some need to be networked to one another. Someday soon many will need internet connections. And the same facilities have to be provided separately for everyone: the driver, the front passengers and the rear passengers (and in larger vehicles, the third-row passengers). Yes, passengers need dashboards too. One dashboard for each passenger.

Words Matter. Talk About People: Not Customers, Not Consumers, Not Users

10 June 2006

Words matter. Psychologists depersonalize the people they study by calling them "subjects." We depersonalize the people we study by calling them "users." Both terms are derogatory. They take us away from our primary mission: to help people. Power to the people, I say, to repurpose an old phrase. People. Human Beings. That's what our discipline is really about.

Full-scale maps: Cartography dream realized

13 April 2006

Cambridge, UK. 1 April 2006. An old dream of cartographers has finally been realized through flat-panel displays and small, portable computational devices. For centuries, cartographers have dreamed of full-scale maps, that is, a map with a scale of 1:1, so that 1 Km. of the map would represent 1 Km. of the world. Implementation difficulties made such a map impractical. But now, scientists at Cambridge University have been able to display the full-scale map on a flat-panel screen, scrolling the map as necessary to cover the territory.

Motorist trapped in traffic circle 14 hours

13 April 2006

April 1. Hampstead, MA. Motorist Peter Newone said he felt as if a nightmare had just ended. Newone, 53, was driving his newly purchased luxury car when he entered the traffic circle in the city center around 9 AM yesterday, Friday. The car was equipped with the latest safety features, including a new feature called Lane Keeping. "It just wouldn’t let me get out of the circle," said Newone.

A Time For Standards

02 April 2006

Standards committees face daunting tasks. Nonetheless, the time has come for this one. If we do not standardize the nature of the warning systems, we are apt to create as much harm as good with these systems. We need functional standards that specify the forms by which signals might be given, the nature of the automatic operations that will be performed, and to standardize the controls and displays, so that even drivers new to a vehicle can understand the warning, know what actions to expect, and know how to read the displays and modify their settings. Today, we have a hodge-podge of methods. Hodge-podges and safety do not go hand in hand.

A Car Is for Entertainment

02 April 2006

Let’s face it, the car isn’t just for driving anymore, it’s for almost anything you can imagine (and probably some things you’d rather not). As if the interior design team’s job weren’t difficult enough, not only must they make a safe, comfortable interior, but it must be alluring, inviting, and suitable for a wide variety of activities, many of which are in conflict with one another, let alone with safety and comfort. The car is rapidly becoming an entertainment center.

Complexity again -- Isn't progress wonderful?

02 April 2006

Today we can start the car with ease. But our intrepid automobile interior design teams have compensated for that simplicity. Now you have to learn how to open the doors, how to operate the temperature controls, how to change radio stations. We used to have to take classes to start the engine. Today we need lessons to set the clock. Isn’t progress wonderful?

Interior Design Versus Product Design

02 April 2006

To an outsider like me, someone versed in the field of product design, especially that of high-technology, the world of automotive interior design seems very different, very anachronistic. One theme of this issue is the influence of Product Design, so let me compare that world with automobile interior design.

Why doing user observations first is wrong

02 April 2006

How many times have you had to fight hard for the ability to do field studies and other observations at the very start of the project? How many times have you patiently explained that taking time now would be rewarded by faster time to market overall? And how many times were you successful? The HCI community has long complained about product processes that do not allow time to start with good observations. The more I examine this issue, the more I think that it is we, the HCI community, who are wrong. This includes me, for I have long championed the "study first, design second" approach. Well, I now suggest that for many projects the order is "design, then study."

Emotionally-centered design

02 April 2006

Web 2.0 is coming. Rich Internet applications (RIA) are here. Hurrah! The internet has caught up with the desktop, at long last. As a result, they provide some natural experiments in emotionally-attractive websites, allowing us to contrast the more traditional, static html page website with these more interactive, dynamic ones, where there are natural controls for information content, utility, and usability. So let’s see what we can learn from them. In this exploration, I concentrate on map websites because they provide the ingredients for appropriate comparisons. We are moving from static pages with their clunky, slow repainting of the page to fluid, dynamic displays, where the movement is a major part of the charm. We are moving from behaviorally effective designs to ones that add emotional engagement.

To school or not to school

02 April 2006

To school or not to school, is that the question? Should you go back to school? Whatever you do, remember that you must continually be learning. It is essential to keep up with rapidly evolving practices, with new technologies, procedures, business models, markets, and so on. So no matter what your schooling, make sure you are always engaged. Go to all the talks, seminars, and meetings you can. Attend national conferences. Subscribe to the journals and magazines and newsletters. Often these will disappoint or even bore you, but stick to it. You will be surprised how your sophistication grows over time, even though no single event seems responsible. When I go to a five-day conference, if I get one new insight, that makes it worthwhile. One insight after five days? Yup. Insights are rare. One or two a year, and that is a rich life. To school or not to school is a question only you can answer.

Whose profession is design?

02 April 2006

Designing a product requires many skills, and it is the rare individual who has them all. Design is, therefore, an exercise in teamwork, where each team member brings in a different mix of skills, attitudes, and values. Alas, quite often, members think their own set of attributes is the most important. Whose profession is this, anyway? Nobody’s and everybody’s. We are all in it together, we all need one another.

Things That Make Us Smart: Forbes article

15 March 2006 published a series of articles on "the 20 tools which have had the biggest impact on human civilization." They asked me to be on their advisory board.

"Writing," I proclaimed. "The invention of writing is probably the most important tool for human advancement, making it possible for each new generation to build upon the work of the previous, to transmit knowledge from person to person, across cultures and time."

"Sorry," came back the response. "We decided early on to try to limit the list to handheld objects that could be physically manipulated to complete a task.”

So I advised them. But here is the real essay, the one I wanted to write, but which they rejected.

Trapped In a Lufthansa Airline Seat

21 November 2005

I consider it part of my self-imposed job requirement to purchase and try out every new technology. How else am to know the pleasure – and trauma – associated with their potential and their realization? My experiences demonstrate the need for the field of HCI expand its horizons far beyond that of the traditional computer. This essay gives one example.

Complexity of the Modern Automobile-Isn't Progress Wonderful?

21 November 2005

Today we can start the car with ease. But our intrepid automobile interior design teams have compensated for that simplicity. Now you have to learn how to open the doors, how to operate the temperature controls, how to change radio stations. We used to have to take classes to start the engine. Today we need lessons to set the clock. Isn’t progress wonderful?

The truth about Google's so-called "simplicity"

14 September 2005

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.

HCD harmful? A Clarification

03 September 2005

Many have had difficulty with my article "Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful" In particular, I failed to make clear what I meant by "Activity-Centered Design," (ACD) and how it differs from "Human-Centered Design"(HCD). Some people think I have renounced everything I have said before. No, no, no. So, this short note tries to clarify.

How To Find a Job or Graduate School in Human-Computer Interaction, Interaction, or Industrial Design

19 August 2005

(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.

There's an Automobile in HCI's Future

13 August 2005

Consider the modern automobile. It is a wonder of computation. multiple CPUs, hundreds of miles of cabling. Automatic this and automatic that. Lots of automatic stuff. How do we automate sensibly, controlling some parts of the driving experience, but ensuring that drivers are kept alert and informed -- "in the loop" is the way this is described in aviation safety. The current designs for automobile automation are being done by engineers who are ignorant of the lessons learned from studies of automation. Here we go again. Each new industry fails to learn the lessons of the previous ones. So, once again, here is a field in desperate need of help, yet not quite realizing it. A field with new lessons to learn, and a lot of very old lessons that have to be taught once again.

Problem of Automation: Inappropriate feedback and interaction, not over-automation

13 August 2005

As automation increasingly takes its place in industry it is often blamed for causing harm and increasing the chance of human error when failures occur. I propose that the problem is not the presence of automation, but rather its inappropriate design. The problem is that the operations under normal operating conditions are performed appropriately, but there is inadequate feed back and interaction with the humans who must control the overall conduct of the task. When the situations exceed the capabilities of the automatic equipment, then the inadequate feedback leads to difficulties for the human controllers.

This essay was published 15 years ago, but it is still relevant, especially as more and more automation moves into the auto industry.

Universal Design & Auto Design: We Are Getting Older

06 August 2005

I recently watched an elderly lady struggle to extricate herself from the front seat of a car. "Now there is a huge opportunity," I said to myself, "we live in an aging society, yet we still design for the young and able. Why not address this huge, important market?"

There is a tendency to shy away from designing for the impaired. This is a special-interest group, it is feared, one that will drive away other customers. Wrong. Designs intended to make life easier for the elderly or handicapped can be useful for everyone.

Do companies fail because their technology is unusable?

22 July 2005

Wonderful user experience is important, but neither necessary nor sufficient. If the company fails, it doesn’t matter how good the experience was. For us, as a discipline, to be successful, we need to understand the entire picture. Our job is to make the company succeed.

Human-Centered Design Considered Harmful

22 July 2005

Human-Centered Design has become such a dominant theme in design that it is now accepted by interface and application designers automatically, without thought, let alone criticism. That’s a dangerous state — when things are treated as accepted wisdom. The purpose of this essay is to provoke thought, discussion, and reconsideration of some of the fundamental principles of Human-Centered Design. These principles, I suggest, can be helpful, misleading, or wrong. At times, they might even be harmful. Activity-Centered Design is superior.

Trapped in a Lufthansa Airline Seat

18 July 2005

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.

Emotional Autos

17 July 2005

DONALD A. NORMAN Originally published in InteriorMotives. You are driving along, about to change lanes, when your car suddenly tenses up. The seatbelts tighten. The seat straightens up, the headrest moves forward. As you turn the wheel to the right, the car starts quivering, buzzing from the right side. “Calm down, ” you say, “I know what I’m doing. ” A nervous, skittish car? A car distrustful of its driver? Sure, why not? Cars are getting real personalities and emotions....

Industrial Design: Claims Without Substance

01 May 2005

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?

In Defense of PowerPoint

27 April 2005

It has become commonplace to rail against the evils of PowerPoint talks; you know, those dull, boring never-ending ordeals where the speaker — or should I say "reader" — displays what appears to be a never-ending progression of slides, each with numerous bulleted points, sometimes coming on to the screen from unexpected directions in unexpected ways, each one being slowly read to the audience. PowerPoint should be banned, cries the crowd. Edward Tufte credits poor PowerPoint slides with contributing to the Columbia space shuttle disaster.

Is PowerPoint bad? No, in fact, it is quite a useful tool. Boring talks are bad. Poorly structured talks are bad. Don't blame the problem on the tool. Is PowerPoint responsible for the Columbia disaster? Don't be silly. The PowerPoint slides reflected the judgment of the committee. The critical point was in small type because the committee thought it unimportant. The surprise is that they included it at all — which implies to me that they were trying to be as complete and honest as they could. They were not trying to deceive. Bad talks are bad, whether or not they use PowerPoints. And good talks are good, even when they do use PowerPoint—sometimes because they do use PowerPoint, but only if they use it properly and appropriately.

Chapter 11: Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles

17 April 2005

As we construct artificial devices with ever more power, even more intelligence, perhaps we will have to make them mimic natural evolution. Technology slowly evolves, not in the same way as the natural evolution of life, but through the artificial evolution of design. But in many ways, the evolution of machines is driven by the same pressures as the evolution of life: modifications that enhance performance and allow the organism or machine to survive and to compete in the world will survive, those that do not will disappear. Slowly, designers will add signals and warnings, self-assessments and communication devices, providing the artificial equivalents of emotions, facial expressions, and social interaction. Just as people need to communicate acts, intentions, and emotional states, to give continual feedback and evidence of expected actions and outcomes, so too will machines have to interact more fully, more completely to provide the same kind of information. Will we have to repeat the whole ensemble of human emotional and facial expressions in our artificial devices? Yes, I think so. Technology recapitulates phylogeny.

Minimizing the annoyance of the mobile phone

15 March 2005

We are in real danger of a consumer backlash against annoying technologies. We already have seen the growth of mobile-phone free zones, of prohibition against phone use, camera use, camera phones, in all sort of public and private places. The mobile phone has been shown to be a dangerous distraction to the driver of an automobile, whether hands-free or not. If we do nothing to overcome these problems, then the benefits these technologies bring may very well be denied us because the social costs are simply too great. Technology provides many virtues to modern life, but at some societal costs. If we do not attend to the societal costs, they may cause legal restrictions on the use of the technology. Why not address them proactively, using the technology itself to fight the problems?

In Appreciation of Jef Raskin

14 March 2005

Jef Raskin, a remarkable person, died recently (26 Feb., 2005). He led a rich life. I first met him when he was a professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in the early 1970s, and although his degree was in Music, he was a professor of Art, doing computer science, and art, and music, and well, you name it. He was an accomplished musician on multiple instruments, a conductor and composer, an artist with several major exhibits, an inventor of light-weight, radio controlled airplanes (and science editor of a model airplane magazine), a writer, inventor of the term "Information appliance" and one of the first example products thereof (The Canon Cat), and along the way, the person who started the Macintosh project at Apple computer. Take a look at his latest work -- Archy -- which promises a radically different way to interact with our computers. Read Jef's book, examine the Archie site. And look for Jef’s new book, "The Humane Environment," now in development at Addison-Wesley. A remarkable person: a remarkable set of achievements.

Robots in the Home: What Might They Do?

29 January 2005

Robots are coming, but what does this mean to ordinary folks? First of all, don't believe all the hype. Three likely directions for the future are entertainment, home appliances, and education. We can start with today's existing devices and slowly add on intelligence, manipulative ability, and function. Start small and build. The market for robots that entertain by being cute and cuddly is already well established. The second generation of vacuum cleaners is smarter than the first. Sony's dog gets smarter and less expensive with each new version. We don't yet think of washing machines, microwave ovens, and coffee makers as robots, but why not? They don't move around the house, but they are getting better and smarter every year. And when the coffee maker is connected to the pantry and dishwasher, that will be a home robot worthy of the name: same for the coupling of sorting, washing, drying, and storing clothes. Education is a powerful possibility. There is already a solid basis of educational devices that aid learning. Today's robots can read aloud in engaging voices. They can be cute and lovable — witness the responses to the multiple quasi-intelligent animals on the toy market. A robot could very well interact with a child, offering educational benefits as well. Why not have the robot help the child learn the alphabet, teach reading, vocabulary, pronunciation, basic arithmetic, maybe basic reasoning? Why not music and art, geography and history? And why restrict it to children?

Concept Cars

28 January 2005

Concept cars play an important role in the automobile industry. These exercises are great opportunities to test potential designs. Originally, these were pure explorations in style -- an excuse to let the stylists display their creative juices before returning to the mundane world of production models. But over time, the ideas have developed into a combination of exploration and show. Sometimes the original intention to explore design themes has been taken over by the public relations crew, so the result is an attempt to impress the car-buying public, the press, the executive suite, and, just perhaps, rival designers at competitive companies, which especially means designers of different models within the same company. Some recent examples of concept cars (e.g., from Volvo, GM, and MIT/GM) are insightful, creative, and powerful. And some (e.g., from Ford) are just plain silly.

Appliances of the Future

10 January 2005

We have truly reached the era of "The Invisible Computer." In the office and home, automobile and school, embedded computers make our lives more enjoyable. We face a fascinating future, with much exciting new technology, many new information appliances. We should not have to know how they work. We should not need to know anything about their technology. All we have to know is our job and what we are tying to accomplish. The appliances simply work: they provide the information we need when we need it, effortlessly, without any effort on our part. Smart things, cyborgs, and emotional things: the future will indeed be different.

Where Emotional Design Fails

10 January 2005

I suppose I ought to be pleased. The phrase "Emotional Design" is pervasive, with consumer products of all forms touting the virtues of the emotions. Beauty is contextual. For the objects in our home that we must live with, the context matters. All these new, spectacular designs for television sets, computers, audio loudspeakers, and other appliances are wonderful in the showroom or museum. But in the house, they clash. we don't live in museums. Most of us do not live with shining steel and glass furniture. The beauty is inappropriate for everyday lives. It clashes. Designers of the world: Beauty is nice. But fitting in even nicer. Let's return to human-centered design, to appropriate design.

With safety and security, more can be less

27 December 2004

Adding more security and safety measures can actually decrease security and safety. This is for four reasons: one technical, the other three a result of psychology.

1. Common-mode problems
2. The "shirking" problem (also known to psychologists as "bystander apathy").
3. The overcompensation problem.
4: The Dedicated Worker problem.

Originally published in "Risks Digest." Points one-three from a paper by Scott Sagan. Point four is mine.

Design as Communication

16 November 2004

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.

Ad-Hoc Personas & Empathetic Focus

06 November 2004

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.)

When Bugs Become Features

25 October 2004

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.

Facing to the rear

24 October 2004

When I travel in cars, I am a passenger as often as I am a driver. Passengers seem poorly served by the design of most automobile interiors. Why not allow the front seat to face to the rear? Now, suddenly, the front and rear passengers are united. Will passengers dislike it? Suppose it were optional -- great when there is conversation between rear and front, optional otherwise.

Navigation Systems

23 September 2004

Navigation systems can quickly become essential components of driving, especially in unfamiliar locations. They invoke strong feelings among those who use them, but alas, much in the same way we relate to our computers: love and hate seem to alternate. Now that I have experienced them in my own cars, I never want to be without them, except for when I want to throw them out the window.

Cockpit Complexity

23 September 2004

The automobile industry is doing a poor job of designing interior controls -- they are overly complex, difficult to understand, and therefore dangerous to use while driving. It is time to use human-centered design.

Activity-Centered Design: Why I like my Harmony Remote Control

22 September 2004

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.

Emotional Design: People and Things

22 September 2004

Products differ in their appeal on the three design dimensions, but so too do people and situations. Vegetable peelers are primarily bought for their behavior. Wall clocks might be bought for visceral appeal or reflective image. Some people are behavioral, some are visceral. Some reflective, considering what others will think -- although it is the rare person who will admit to this behavior.

Interaction Design for Automobile Interiors

22 September 2004

The automobile industry is ignoring all the advances in user-interface design, and all the lessons about safety. Unlike home computers where bad design is simply a nuisance, with automobiles, bad design can be a major safety issue.

The Complexity of Everyday Life

22 September 2004

My home is littered with technologies that require conitnual attention. The problem is not just with today's favorite culprit -- the computer -- even my water filter requires change every 6 months. If every device only needed attention once a year, I would still be fixing, maintaining, or adjusting something every day. And these devices require more than yearly maintenance -- some are daily, some monthly -- and with the computer, it can be several times a day. Where will it end?

DVD Menu Design: The Failures of Web Design Recreated Yet Again

22 September 2004

It is time to take DVD design as seriously as we do web design. The field needs some discipline: Some attention to the User Experience, concern about accessibility for those with less than perfect sight and hearing, and some standardization of control and display formats.

The Perils of Home Theater

22 September 2004

(Also published in IEEE's Computer magazine, June 2002). Anyone who thinks that the computer industry has made things difficult for customers, wait till you look at home theater. There is a major opportunity here to enlarge the market considerably by setting, agreeing upon, and implementing industry-wide standards for interconnection, aimed at making the result easier to install and use, far more comprehensible, and therefore more attractive to the average family.

In Defense of Cheating

22 September 2004

No, I am not in favor of deception, trickery, fraud, or swindle. What I wish to change are the curriculum and examination practices of our school systems that insist on unaided work, arbitrary learning of irrelevant and uninteresting facts. I'd like to move them toward an emphasis on understanding, on knowing how to get to an answer rather than knowing the answer, and on cooperation rather than isolation. Cheating that involves deceit is, of course wrong, but we should examine the school practices that lead to cheating: change the practices, and the deceit will naturally diminish.

Applying the Behavioral, Cognitive, and Social Sciences to Products

22 September 2004

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.

Being Analog 3 of 3

15 September 2004

Part 3 of an essay on the fact that people are analog, hence fundamentally mismatched with contemporary requirements of digital devices (e.g., the computer).

Being Analog 2 of 3

15 September 2004

Part 2 of a three-part essay on the fact that people are analog, hence fundamentally mismatched with contemporary requirements of digital devices (e.g., the computer).

The Personality of Automobiles

14 September 2004

Every car has a unique personality, much like every person, and with cars as with people, we infer the personality from three components: visceral, which is mainly looks; behavioral, which is mainly behavior; and reflective, which is mainly reputation.

Chapter 1: I Go to a 6th Grade Play

08 September 2004

CHAPTER ONE OF TURN SIGNALS ARE THE FACIAL EXPRESSION OF AUTOMOBILES1 I went to a sixth grade play. It was a small play, at a small school. Only the sixth grade was involved, so we were in a relatively small auditorium, with approximately 50 folding chairs crammed together on the floor. If there had been only 50 parents present, it would have been crowded. But in addition to the parents, we had the video cameras. Some parents came with camera...

Chapter 17: Writing as Design, Design as Writing

06 September 2004

CHAPTER 17 OF TURN SIGNALS ARE THE FACIAL EXPRESSION OF AUTOMOBILES1 A graduate student of mine, worrying about how to teach the principles of good design to undergraduates, suggested that we should use writing as an example. "We should teach them," he said, "to think of the problem of designing something that people will find understandable and easy to use as the same problem as writing something that other people will understand and find easy to read." It's a wonderful...

Chapter 16: Coffee Cups in the Cockpit

06 September 2004

CHAPTER 16 OF TURN SIGNALS ARE THE FACIAL EXPRESSION OF AUTOMOBILES 1 Chapter Note: Please do not think that because most of my examples are from aviation that air travel is unsafe or that the same thing doesn't happen elsewhere. Aviation is a very safe activity because of these careful investigations of each accident. They are done with great care and thoroughness, and the results are taken very seriously by the aviation community. The voluntary aviation safety reporting system is...

Chapter 15: It's a Million to One Chance

06 September 2004

CHAPTER 15 OF TURN SIGNALS ARE THE FACIAL EXPRESSION OF AUTOMOBILES 1 How come some people always know just how they got sick? And how come they always expect me to know how I got my cough, or runny nose. Most of the time, there is no way of knowing. The reasons that people tend to give are examples of what we call "folk psychology" or "folk medicine." They have no scientific validity, even though they are a part of...

Chapter 6: The Teddy

06 September 2004

CHAPTER SIX OF TURN SIGNALS ARE THE FACIAL EXPRESSION OF AUTOMOBILES1 The delights of having information ever-present are amazingly seductive. Wouldn't it be nice to have a personal assistant, small and unobtrusive, that could remember the details of life for us, so that we could always have them available on demand? It would take care of the daily trivia of life, things like telephone, passport and drivers license numbers, as well as the important things: "What was the name of...

Turn Signals - Table of contents and Preface

06 September 2004

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED BY ADDISON WESLEY. NOW OUT OF PRINT. 1 TABLE OF CONTENTS Preface I Go to a 6th Grade Play Design Follies The Home Magazine Kitchen Refrigerator Doors and Message Centers High Technology Gadgets The Teddy How Long Is Noon? Real Time Nature's Packaging Evolution Vs. Design Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles Book Jackets & Science Brain Power Hofstadter's Law It's a Million to One Chance Coffee Cups in the Cockpit Writing as Design, Design as...

Being Analog

01 September 2004

Chapter 7 from The Invisible Computer ? 1998 ? We are analog beings trapped in a digital world, and the worst part is, we did it to ourselves.

The Future of Education: Lessons Learned from Video Games and Museum Exhibits

01 September 2004

We will solve the fundamental problems only through social policy, through organizational change, and through deep understanding of organizations and the people who comprise and are served by them. We need to change the way we think about education, and through that understanding, change the way we do it.

How Might Humans Interact with Robots?

01 September 2004

In developing an understanding of how humans interact with robots, we can draw our lessons from several disciplines: 1. Human-Computer Interaction 2. Automation in such areas as Aviation 3. Science fiction, e.g., Asimov's 4 laws of Robots 4. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 5. Human Consciousness, Emotion and Personality All of these areas are valuable, but each stresses a different aspect of interaction so, in the end, we must draw lessons from all. In the case of robots, it turns out that although all these teach valuable lessons, they aren't enough: we still need more.

Learning from the Success of Computer Games

01 September 2004

We learn not by having our heads filled with the great thoughts and ideas of others, but by constructing them within our own conceptual structures. But this construction works best when the scenario is rigged so as to lead us to the ideas, to force us to confront them and understand them. This is what the successful game designer does. This is what the successful educator must do. More...

Cyborgs of the New Millennium

01 September 2004

To date, the way we interact with computers is incredibly unimaginative and limited. Basically, we sit in front of the box looking and listening, pointing and typing, and occasionally talking. Will this change? Of course, but I believe the change will come about primarily by changes in the computer itself, getting rid of the boxes and embedding them into devices and appliances.

Affect and machine design: Lessons for the development of autonomous machines (with Andrew Ortony and Dan Russell). (August, 2002)

01 September 2004

(Norman, D. A., Ortony, A., & Russell, D. M. (2003). Affect and machine design: Lessons for the development of autonomous machines. IBM Systems Journal, 42 (1), 38-44.. Originally presented at the IBM Autonomic Computing Summit at T J Watson Research Center, May 14-15, 2002) Abstract Human beings have evolved a rich and sophisticated set of processes for engaging with the world in which cognition and affect play two different but equal roles. Both cognition and affect can be thought of as systems for information processing. One, that of cognition, interprets and makes sense of the world. The other, affect, evaluates and judges. The affective system modulates the operating parameters of cognition and provides warning of possible dangers, thereby enhancing survivability and reliability. The study of how these two systems work together provides guidance for the design of complex autonomous systems that must deal with a variety tasks in a dynamic and often unpredictable environment.

The Life Cycle of a Technology: Why it is so difficult for large companies to innovate

01 September 2004

As I wrote "The Invisible Computer," I was struck by a paradox. On the one hand, there is very substantial agreement that ease of use and understandability are important. Similarly, good industrial design, simple, short documentation, and convenient, pleasing products are superior. I wondered why, if ease of use and understandability seems to important, On the other hand, much of the computer technology today violates all these things, yet the companies prosper. . . . So why is it that good products can fail and inferior products can succeed?

Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better

01 September 2004

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.

Looking Forward to the 21st Century

01 September 2004

It is time for technology to be quieter, calmer, and less visible. Let us make the 21st century be the time to hide the technology, to let it all become invisible. Just as the sewers and water pipes of the homes are invisible, yet still essential; or just as the electric wiring and electric motors throughout the home or office are ever present but beneath conscious awareness, let the computer technology become an enabling infrastructure: invisible, out of sight, out of mind, but ever more powerful.

Technology and the Rise of the For-profit University

01 September 2004

The traditional university is all things to all people, but it is primarily a place for professors to learn, to study, and yes, to teach. The teaching follows the traditional model of pouring knowledge into the heads of obedient students. This is a teacher-centered model of education, one that has repeatedly been shown to be inferior.

Advanced TV Standards

01 September 2004

We are in the midst of an interesting revolution, one that I am sure historians 200 years from now will call one of the more profound technological changes in written history. This revolution is really about social interaction, collaboration, and access to knowledge. It isn't about telephones or computers or television.

Affordances and Design

30 July 2004

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.

Affordance, Conventions and Design (Part 2)

30 July 2004

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

Banner Blindness, Human Cognition and Web Design

29 July 2004

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

29 July 2004

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.

Commentary: Human Error and the Design of Computer Systems

29 July 2004

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.

Usability Is Not a Luxury

29 July 2004

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.