1 December 2010

Reflecting on the book “Living with Complexity” by Donald A. Norman

Be the first to share

Living with Complexity
I just finished reading Living with Complexity by Donald A. Norman (previously announced here) and consider an important contribution to our field, and this for three precise reasons.

First, Norman has a huge reputation, also outside of our professional UX sphere. His books are often the first (and sometimes the only ones) that managers, academics, policy makers and business people will read if they want to know something more about user experience. And he does an excellent job at living up to that reputation by making the difficult digestible and easy to grasp, understand and implement in daily practice.

During a recent trip to Korea, I was again reminded of how influential Norman is, and frankly said, we have an excellent spokesperson in him advocating our field to an extremely important non-UX audience (who often become our clients and interlocutors).

This book is his latest contribution in sharing our practice, as it explains how the often heard strive for simplicity is a mistaken ambition, and that designers – interaction and service designers in particular – need to concentrate instead on supporting people in managing the necessary complexities of daily life.

The second reason why I like Norman’s writing is that he sometimes manages to explain an idea with greater clarity than I have ever read before – and it that sense he can also teach us, UX professionals a lesson. Take this little story about how the field of interaction design came about and how it evolved (page 143-144):

“Most of my work has been with computer and telecommunication companies and with startup firms that make use of these technologies. These companies manufacture electronic products: computers, cameras, cell phones, navigation systems, and so on. In the early days of these new technologies, people had enormous difficulties understanding and using them. These were interactive devices, where an action by a person would lead to a change of state of the machine and then the requirement to do some new action. In many cases the person and the device had to engage in a form of conversation in order to set up the right parameters for the action that was to take place. As a result of the difficulties being faced, computer scientists, psychologists and other social scientists, and designers developed a new discipline, interaction design, to figure out the most appropriate ways of handling the interactions. As the technologies have evolved, and as the sophistication of the people using them has increased, the field of interaction design has had to deal with more and more advanced techniques and philosophies of interaction. From understanding and usability the field expanded to incorporate emotional factors, toward a focus on experience and enjoyment. Today, more and more products contain hidden, embedded microprocessors (computers) and communication chips. As a result, interaction design is now a major component of almost all design.”

Norman then goes on to define service design with the same clarity, which he considers – rightfully – to be “far more complex than product design.”

Finally, while the book can sometimes seem a little digressive, Norman does a great job in tying it all together in the final chapters, where he presents a series of cleverly structured design principles for managing complexity – to be used by design educators, design students, young professionals and senior designers alike – and a number crucial challenges that address the larger social, cultural and business ecosystem of our work.

Be the first to share
28 May 2015
The driverless car push ignores challenges of people and context
Autonomous or driverless cars are based on a technology push strategy. Beyond statements like “freeing up time”, “reducing accidents” and some simple scenarios on “remote parking” or “vehicle sharing”, there is far too little thought …
25 May 2015
A Bauhaus-inspired, human-centered internet of things
In a short opinion piece in The Guardian, Jenny Judge and Julia Powles state that the Bauhaus movement could be a model for a more human-centered internet of things: "Back in the early 20th century, the …
17 May 2015
We are ignoring the new machine age at our peril
In 2009, W Brian Arthur published a remarkable book, The Nature of Technology, in which he formulated a coherent theory of what technology is, how it evolves and how it spurs innovation and industry. Technology, …
17 May 2015
Design thinking without deep analysis is reckless. A more balanced approach is needed.
Larry Keeley, co-founder of innovation firm Doblin which is now a unit of Deloitte Consulting LLP, says that too often advocates of “design” regard it as an elixir that can somehow transform conservative companies into …
17 May 2015
[Book] Anthropologist explores the many faces of Anonymous
Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous by Gabriella Coleman Verso Publishers November 2014 Hardback, 464 pages Abstract Half a dozen years ago, anthropologist Gabriella Coleman set out to study the rise of this global phenomenon just as some …
10 May 2015
Developing patient-centred care: an ethnographic study of patient perceptions and influence on quality improvement
Developing patient-centred care: an ethnographic study of patient perceptions and influence on quality improvement By Alicia Renedo and Cicely Marston BMC Health Services Research (2015) 15:122 DOI 10.1186/s12913-015-0770-y Background - Understanding quality improvement from a patient perspective is …
9 May 2015
Modernizing the US immigration system with user-centered design
Vivian Graubard describes on WhiteHouse.gov how the U.S. Digital Service is working on modernizing the USA’s still largely paper based immigration service, pairing a better technical base with user-centered design. We traveled to USCIS (United States …
5 May 2015
Intel anthropologist creates data processing tool for Quantified Self community
When data can be both individual, and potentially aggregated across many people, who does and does not have a say in what “the data” ultimately means? A thought provoking piece by Dawn Nafus, an anthropologist …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

5 May 2015
Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록 in Design 4 Disaster

Design 4 Disaster features an engaging illustrated safety manual for ship passengers, a personal project by Experientia designer Dohun YuLuck Jang 유록. After the Korean ferry accident last year, Yuluck (who is Korean) wanted to find a way to make safety manuals more interesting to read. He spent one year designing an interactive safety guide […]

16 March 2015
Better Health and Wellbeing: Giving the elderly in Singapore sparkling golden years

Invitation: sharing session, Singapore, 30 March 2015   What are the hopes and fears of the elderly in Singapore? How can designers offer solutions that support the elderly in managing their health and wellness? What can healthcare professionals do to help them keep active? What role can technology play in the elderly’s daily lives? Design consultants […]

1 January 2015
Happy Playful New Year
21 December 2014
Experientia’s Twitter feed live

Experientia has now its own Twitter feed. Four months of Putting People First posts and other links have already been uploaded. If you followed Experientia on Twitter through the feed of its CEO, Mark Vanderbeeken, make sure to now also follow the company (but don’t unfollow Mark, who will keep on tweeting away). And while […]

19 December 2014
Putting People First blog redesigned

Experientia’s Putting People First blog has been redesigned. It is now entirely responsive, allows for easier browsing, searching, and filtering, and features larger images on the posts. The entire history of posts remains accessible as before. We are still tweaking things and welcome any feedback.

27 November 2014
Why the world needs anthropologists – an update

Why the world needs anthropologists – Coming out of the ivory tower Location: Padua, Italy, Centro Culturale Altinate/San Gaetano Date and time: Friday, 5 December 2014, 13:00 – 18:00 Padua, Italy, 5 December 2014 – The second edition of the international symposium of applied anthropologists attempts to erase the boundary between ‘pure’ and ‘applied’ anthropology, […]

See all articles