Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Technology & Society

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

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?

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...

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.

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?

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.