“While his book doesn’t exactly provide hard and fast rules for taming complexity, it does a very good job of framing the problem. After all, when the aspects of a problem are laid out clearly, problems begin to appear progressively less complex. Along the way, as Norman explains the problem, his text is accompanied by the usual assortment of author photographs of awkward and difficult devices. Digressing from the paradoxical nature of choosing from two rolls of toilet paper in a public restaurant to the “desire lines” caused by human behavior (creases in books and dead spots in public meadows where people walk), Norman covers social signifiers. He addresses forcing functions, grouping and countless other design/behavior problems. Norman even devotes an entire chapter to the nature of waiting in line (nearly every hospital does it wrong, and our recent visit to the Apple store on Prince Street showed that even Apple had stopped listing the names and timing of those in the queue, much to this reviewer’s consternation).”
“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 without designers? Those who dislike the ambiguity and uncertainty of human judgments, with its uncertain track record and contradictory statements will try to abolish the human element in favor of the certainty that numbers and data appear to offer. But those who want the big gains that creative judgment can produce will follow their own judgment. The first case will bring about the small, continual improvements that have contributed greatly to the increased productivity and lowering of costs of our technologies. The second case will be rewarded with great failures and occasional great success. But those great successes will transform the world.”
Steve Portigal started the debate with a piece which intends to “to reframe rather than refute” Norman’s argument.
Nicolas Nova thinks that Norman’s piece reflects “a narrow understanding of what field research about people can convey”. Nova also takes issue with the “distinction between improvement and breakthrough (or what [Norman] calls “revolutionary innovation”).” Perhaps, Nova says,” it’s a framing issue but the notion of a “breakthrough” seems a bit weird when one think about the whole history of technologies. This terms seems more appealing to the marketing/business people than observer of how objects evolved over time.’
Todd Zaki Warfel writes he “couldn’t disagree more with the content of the [Norman] essay. He singles out both “how Don defines design research” and Norman’s claim that innovations “are invariably driven by the development of new technologies.”
Nikos Karaoulanis argues that that Norman’s essay “really lends to the argument that design research and especially design thinking is absolutely crucial, if not critical to designing in our time.”
Adam Richardson says: “I actually agree[s] with much of what he says, though I see the definition of design research he’s using as overly narrow.”
Check also the comments on each of these pieces.
Today, three stories landed in my inbox. A first one dealt with the search for new contributing editors for interactions magazine, that Don reacted to with considerable attention.
The second was his latest column for the same magazine. Technology First, Needs Last advocates that “design research is great when it comes to improving existing product categories but essentially useless when it comes to new, innovative breakthroughs.” It goes against many things we like to believe in, is provocative, and therefore highly useful.
Finally, Don was interviewed yesterday by the Irish Times on where he thinks the next focus of design should be. “Ecosystems,” he said, “where eco means not only the product, but also the environment, the planet.”
Thank you, Don, and keep up the pace.
“Normal dictionaries do not have the word ‘transmedia,'” he says, “but Wikipedia does. That definition introduced me to many other words that neither I nor my dictionaries had never before heard (for example, narratological). Strange jargon aside, I do believe that there is an important idea here, which explore in this column.”
“Let transmedia stand for those multi-sensory natural experiences: trans-action, trans-sensory. Let it stand for the mix of modalities: reading and writing, speaking and seeing, listening and touching, feeling and tasting. Let it stand for actions and behavior, thought and emotion. My form of transmedia has nothing to do with companies and formal media channels. It has everything to do with free, natural powerful expression.
There is another side of this new transmedia: co-development, co-creation, co-ownership. In this new world, we all produce, we all share, we all enjoy. Teacher and student learn together achieving new understanding. Reader and writer create together. Game player and game developer work together. This is the age of creativity, where everyone can participate. Everyone can be a designer. Everyone can be involved.”
“Long live the body, the physical world, reality. The world of computers led to an unfortunate diversion away from reality to the confining sterility of screens and keyboards, mice and other artificial animals. We lost touch with our bodies, lost touch with the real world. Cheers for the disappearance of this artificial emphasis on artificiality. We human beings have bodies. We evolved in a three-dimensional world with three-dimensional sounds, sights, objects and experiences. So hurrah for the return to the physical world, of gestures and touch, haptics. Of real objects, real movements. It’s about time.”
(via Usability News)
“A product is actually a service. Although the designer, manufacturer, distributer, and seller may think it is a product, to the buyer, it offers a valuable service. The easiest example is the automatic teller machine (ATM), or as many people think of it, a cash dispenser. To the company that manufactures it as well as to the bank that purchases it, the ATM is a product. But to the customer, the ATM provides a service. In similar fashion, although a camera is thought of as a product, its real value is the service it offers to its owner: Cameras provide memories. Similarly, music players provide a service: the enjoyment of listening. Cell phones offer communication, interaction, and other pleasures.
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.”
People are from earth, machines are from outer space [Interactions 2008 column]
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 [Interactions 2008 column]
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
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
This is an abstract for a PDF file, “The Psychology of Waiting Lines.” 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.
>> Check also this related CNN story
Sociable Design – Introduction
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.
Don Norman is a professor emeritus of cognitive science at UC San Diego and a Professor of Computer Science at Northwestern University, where he also co-directs the dual degree MBA + Engineering degree program between the Kellogg school and Northwestern Engineering. He is the co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group and former Vice President of Apple Computer. Norman serves on many advisory boards, including Encyclopedia Britannica and the Industrial design department of KAIST, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. He was awarded the Benjamin Franklin medal in Computer and Cognitive Science. He has honorary degrees from the University of Padova (Italy) and the Technical University Delft (the Netherlands) and is the author of “The Design of Everyday Things” and “Emotional Design.” His newest book, “The Design of Future Things,” discusses the role that automation plays in our everyday lives.
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.
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 the PDF file, The Psychology of Waiting Lines, 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.
It all started with a four-page article in the March 2008 issue of Wired Magazine about 37signals, the company that helped develop much of the software that has enabled Web 2.0, including Ruby on Rails, that was used to create podcasting service Odeo and microblogging phenomenon Twitter. [Check also 37signals' own reaction to the article]
Norman, who was quoted in the article arguing that simplicity is highly overrated, used his blog to react to the Wired piece, pointing out that, although he has always admired the company, he has also tried their products and they have never quite met his needs. After reading the article, Norman says he understands why: “the developers are arrogant and completely unsympathetic to the people who use their products.” Norman is particularly taken aback by one key quote of David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals: “I’m not designing software for other people, I’m designing it for me.”
Jason Fried, the other founder of 37signals, a company known according to the Wired article for a lack of modesty, disagreed very respectfully:
First off, let me say I respect Norman. His book The Design of Everyday Things is a classic. I’ve always admired him and think he’s spot on most of the time.
That said, I think he’s looking at this the wrong way. In fact, most of what he says about us in his piece misses the point.
Read his post, it is very senseable, and touches upon some of the major controversies within user-centred design as a whole, as also demonstrated by the number of comments.
Norman will be part of a panel on Saturday afternoon 15 March entitled “Manufacturing Future Designs”.
The many conferences of the festival are delving into all kinds of variations of the overall “manufacturing” theme: Manufacturing Cultural Projects; Manufacturing the Streets; Dramatic Manufacturing; Manufacturing Intelligence; Manufacturing Robots; A Manifesto for Networked Objects; Manufacturing Digital Art; Manufacturing Future Designs; Manufacturing Consent; and Is Life Manufacturable?
Speakers and guests are many, including Montse Arbelo, Andrea Balzola, Massimo Banzi, Luis Bec, Gino Bistagnino, Julian Bleecker, Chiara Boeri, Stefano Boeri, PierLuigi Capucci, Stefano Carabelli, Antonio Caronia, Paolo Cirio, Gianni Corino, Lutz Dammbeck, Luca De Biase, Kees de Groot, Hugo Derijke, Giovanni Ferrero, Fabio Franchino, Joseba Franco, Piero Gilardi, Owen Holland, Janez Jansa, Nicole C. Karafyllis, Maurizo Lorenzati, Mauro Lupone, Giampiero Masera, Motor, Ivana Mulatero, Daniele Nale, Anne Nigten, Donald Norman, Marcos Novak, Gordana Novakovic, Giorgio Olivero, Claudio Paletto, Luigi Pagliarini, Katina Sostmann, Stelarc, Bruce Sterling, Pietro Terna, Franco Torriani, and Viola van Alphen.
The Inquirer, a British magazine, points at the apparent reversal in his thinking: “Where, in 1988, he was arguing that technology needed to be designed to make it easier for humans, today he argues that nonetheless, since humans are more adaptable than machines, if we are to work successfully with the much more complex cars, appliances, and other devices of the future we are the ones who will have to change, at least to some extent.”
Also CNET News addresses this question, but the interview is longer and more wide ranging in scope.
Today he is co-founder and principal of the Nielson Norman Group, a executive consultancy for user-centered thinking; a Professor of Computer Science, Psychology, and Cognitive Science at Northwestern University; and co-director of Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute (among too many other titles and activities to list). Importantly for design though, beyond his writing, he is trying to spread the word of design to our engineering and business brethren, so that they get how important design is, and so that we can work better together.
Bruce M. Tharp of Core77 caught up with Don at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s design center for a no-holds-barred chat. Don starts things off by criticizing the design of Bruce’s voice recorder, talks about his just released book [The Design of Future Things], what he’s writing and thinking about now, the relationship between engineering and design, and much more.
Filling much needed holes
“We need more unmet needs, not less. How many times do the never-ending ethnographic studies coupled with ever-eager design groups lead to unwanted, unnecessary, overburdening, and environmentally insensitive products? How many times are these unmet needs best left unmet? Why must we rush to fill the essential voids in our lives?”
There is an automobile in HCI’s future – part 2
“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. There should be an automobile in HCI’s future: but to make this happen presents a challenging problem in management, politics, and diplomacy.”
Command line languages
We navigate the Internet by typing phrases into our browsers and invoking our favorite search engine. But more and more, we type in commands, not search items. All the major search engines now allow typed commands, bypassing any intermediate Web pages to directly yield answers. [...]
These modern command languages have some major virtues over the ones in the past. They are tolerant of variations, robust, and exhibit slight touches of natural language flexibility.
Perhaps a clue for policy makers in regional areas with lots of mechanical engineering companies: why not position yourself as the leader in the new field of “mechatronics”?
The return to physical devices, where we control things by physical movement; turning, moving, and manipulating appropriate mechanical devices.
Physical devices have immediate design virtues, but they require new rules of engagement that differ from what we are used to with the typical mouse movements and clicks of the traditional keyboard and mouse interface. Designers have to learn how to translate the mechanical actions and directness into control of the task.
(via Pasta and Vinegar)
The book’s expected publication date is October 2007. The publisher is Basic Books (New York).
Tentative table of contents:
- Cautious cars and cantankerous kitchens: how machines take control
- Servants of our machines
- The psychology of people & machines
- The role of automation
- Natural interaction
- Six rules for the design of smart things
- The future of everyday things
- Afterward: the machine’s point of view
A Word document of the first chapter (24 pages) can be downloaded here.
The Afterward (3 pages and here entitled “How to take to people”) is available as a pdf download.
The book will be published by Basic Books, probably in early 2008. According to Norman it is about the ever-increasing role of automation in our homes and automobiles, why it is being done so badly, with suggestions for doing it right through what he calls “natural interaction”.
Entitled “Cautious Cars and Cantankerous Kitchens: How Machines Take Control“, the first chapter aims to set out the driving questions of the book: “As we start giving the objects around us more initiative, more intelligence, and more emotions and personality, what does this do to the way we relate with one another? What has happened to our society when we listen to our machines more than people?”
Some quotes from the first chapter:
“We fool ourselves if we believe we communicate with machines. Those who design advanced technology are proud of the communication capabilities they have built into their systems. The machines talk with their users, and in turn their users talk with their machines. But closer analysis shows this to be a myth. There is no communication, not the real, two-way, back-and-forth discussion that characterizes true dialog, true communication. No, what we have are two monologues, two one-way communications. People instruct the machines. The machines signal their states and actions to people. Two monologues do not make a dialogue.”
“As our technology becomes more powerful, more in control, its failure at collaboration and communication becomes ever more critical. Collaboration requires interaction and communication. It means explaining and giving reasons. Trust is a tenuous relationship, formed through experience and understanding. With automatic, so-called intelligent devices, trust is sometimes conferred undeservedly. Or withheld, equally undeservedly. The real problem, I believe, is a lack of communication. Designers do not understand that their job is to enhance the coordination and cooperation of both parties, people and machines. Instead, they believe that their goal is to take over, to do the task completely, except when the machine gets into trouble, when suddenly becomes the person’s responsibility to take command.”
“More and more, our cars, kitchens, and appliances are taking control, doing what they think best without debate or discussion. [...] The problem is the lack of dialogue, the illusion of authority by our machines, and our inability to converse, understand, or negotiate.”
“Successful dialogue requires a large amount of shared, common knowledge and experiences. It requires appreciation of the environment and context, of the history leading up to the moment, and of the many differing goals and motives of the people involved. But it can be very difficult to establish this shared, common understanding with people, so how do we expect to be able to develop it with machines? No, I now believe that this “common ground,” as psycholinguists call it, is impossible between human and machine. We simply cannot share the same history, the same sort of family upbringing, the same interactions with other people. But without a common ground, the dream of machines that are team players goes away. This does not mean we cannot have cooperative, useful interaction with our machines, but we must approach it in a far different way than we have been doing up to now. We need to approach interaction with machines somewhat as we do interaction with animals: we are intelligent, they are intelligent, but with different understandings of the situation, different capabilities. Sometimes we need to obey the animals or machines; sometimes they need to obey us. We need a very different approach, one I call natural interaction.”
Norman goes on to ask what it would mean to have a graceful symbiosis of people and technology, and argues for a more natural form of interaction, “an interaction that can take place subconsciously, without effort, whereby the communication in both directions is done so naturally, so effortlessly, that the result is a smooth merger of person and machine, jointly doing the task.”
We know how to make products that are easy to use and understand. But what about emotions? What about designs that delight? What do we know about how to produce an emotional impact?
Why are Google earth, Google maps (maps.google.com), the Beta version of Yahoo! maps (maps.yahoo.com/beta) and Microsoft’s Windows Live (local.live.com) so compelling, addictive, delightful? They provide the same information as the older, static maps from Yahoo!, MapQuest, MSN, and others, and the very same driving directions. They aren’t any more usable or easy to understand than the older, more static sites – some people have even found them more difficult, especially in their beta deployments. But they are more fun and engaging. What lessons can be learned from this?
(via Usability in the News)
This was announced this Wednesday by the Franklin Institute, in Philadelphia, USA. The ceremony will take place on 27 April 2006.
For 182 years, The Franklin Institute has honored the greatest men and women of science, engineering, and technology. The Franklin Institute Awards are among the oldest and most prestigious comprehensive science awards in the world.
Among science’s highest honors, The Franklin Institute Awards identify individuals whose great innovation has benefited humanity, advanced science, launched new fields of inquiry, and deepened our understanding of the universe.