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
4 July 2015
Videos online of KISD service design conference
On May 18th 2015 the Köln International School of Design (KISD) in Germany hosted the conference "Service Design – Redefining the Meaning of Design". Designers, companies and scientists shared insights on theory and practice of Service …
2 July 2015
Wells Fargo bank uses ethnographic research to design a better customer experience
During a Speaker Spotlight Q&A at Forrester’s CXNYC 2015 conference for customer experience professionals, Mark McCormick, Wells Fargo’s Head of Wholesale User Experience, talked about how past customer experiences shape consumer behaviors and how understanding …
2 July 2015
Interview with HTC’s head designer on experience design
Drew Bamford is the person responsible for making the ITC's experience design – how the company's devices feel and work like 'HTC phones' rather than just another Android handset. HTC's head designer's purvue is focused on …
1 July 2015
[Book] Drawing Energy
Drawing Energy: Exploring perceptions of the invisible Authors: Flora Bowden, Dan Lockton, Rama Gheerawo and Clare Brass. Editor: Rama Gheerawo. Royal College of Art, London, 2015 Free download - Free printed copy Abstract Drawing Energy describes a drawing-based research project …
27 June 2015
Designing for behavior as the critical path for patient engagement
Forget about features, design behaviors. Tying strategic behavior design to engagement outcomes will lead to more pratical and digitally relevant solutions, writes behavioral scientist Steph Habif in a conversation piece on the website of Prescribe …
22 June 2015
[Book] Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics by Richard H. Thaler W. W. Norton & Company May 2015, 432 pages Richard H. Thaler has spent his career studying the radical notion that the central agents in the economy are humans—predictable, …
19 June 2015
Nesta report and case studies on people-centred smart cities
For smart cities to reach their full potential, they need to focus on the citizens living in them, not just technology, write researchers Tom Saunders and Peter Baeck of Nesta, the UK innovation charity Traditionally, smart …
13 June 2015
[Book] Designing Connected Products
Designing Connected Products: UX for the Consumer Internet of Things By Claire Rowland, Elizabeth Goodman, Martin Charlier, Ann Light, Alfred Lui O'Reilly Media, May 2015 726 pages [Amazon link] Abstract Networked thermostats, fitness monitors, and door locks show that the Internet …

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.

2 July 2015
Getting citizens involved in protecting fragile energy environments

A new project funded under the FP7 European Commission framework is getting citizens involved in testing new tools for reducing energy consumption during peak loads, in the hope that its pilot program will set the new state of the art for protecting locations with fragile electricity supplies. One of France’s most fragile regions The Provence-Alpes-Côte […]

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.

See all articles