Emerging from the world of commercial art and product styling, design has now become completely integrated into human life. Its marks are all around us, from the chairs we sit on to the Web sites on our computer screens.
One of the pioneers of design studies and still one of its most distinguished practitioners, Victor Margolin here offers a timely meditation on design and its study at the turn of the millennium and charts new directions for the future development of both fields. Divided into sections on the practice and study of design, the essays in The Politics of the Artificial cover such topics as design history, design research, design as a political tool, sustainable design, and the problems of design's relation to advanced technologies. Margolin also examines the work of key practitioners such as the matrix designer Ken Isaacs. Throughout the book Margolin demonstrates the underlying connections between the many ways of reflecting on and practicing design. He argues for the creation of an international, interdisciplinary field of design research and proposes a new ethical agenda for designers and researchers that encompasses the responsibility to users, the problems of sustainability, and the complicated questions of how to set boundaries for applying advanced technology to solve the problems of human life.
Opinionated and erudite, Victor Margolin's The Politics of the Artificial breaks fresh ground in its call for a new approach to design research and practice. Designers, engineers, architects, anthropologists, sociologists, and historians will all benefit from its insights.
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.
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.
Design, business models, and human-technology teamwork
17 January 2017
As automation and artificial intelligence technologies develop, we need to think less about the design of human-machine interfaces and more about the design of human-machine teamwork.
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."
Norman & Stappers (2016). DesignX: Design and complex sociotechnical systems
20 March 2016
I am pleased to say that the paper by P.J. Stappers and me on DesignX has been published, along with several commentaries and then a response by the authors. With citation and URL for the package.
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."
How Apple is Giving Design a Bad Name
10 November 2015
Bruce Tognazzini and I document the many shortcomings of Apple's current design philosophy in this Fast Company article.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Simplicity Cycle (Dan Ward)
18 January 2014
My Introduction for Dan Ward's book The Simplicity Cycle, but which also includes a description of and a recommendation for his book FIRE. The two books make a powerful package. Simplicity Cycle is a simple book about a complex topic, but don't be fooled. Beneath the simplicity lies a deep and profound message. FIST, the procedure he developed for developing projects quickly and efficiently requires that things be less physically complex, less cognitively confusing and complicated. FIST, the procedure, was renamed FIRE (for Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant), and is now available as a book. The "S" in FIST became this book: The Simplicity Cycle. Not surprisingly, the two books support one another. FIRE, the book, offers lessons highly relevant to The Simplicity Cycle. Large projects all tend to fail. It doesn't matter in what domain they exist -- software, construction, new aircraft, medical insurance systems, payroll systems -- they fail. Ward offers a simple solution: don't do them. With the time and money allocated for one large project, do numerous small ones. Do them Fast and Inexpensive, with Restraint and Elegance: FIRE. It's a well-known principle, but it goes against the nature of organizations who wish to solve all their problems with one project. In consumer markets, it encourages the disease I call featuritis. In industry, it's bloat. What's the alternative? FIRE. How do we avoid unneeded complexity and manage to maintain simplicity? That's the focus of The Simplicity Cycle. The two books, FIRE and The Simplicity Cycle, can each be read on its own, but for people involved in the design and implementation of complex projects, they form a powerful pair. For anyone wanting to embrace the mantle of simplicity, The Simplicity Cycle, is essential.
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.
Preface. Design of Everyday Things, Revised Edition
22 April 2013
The preface to the revised edition of "Design of Everyday Things," including a chapter-by-chapter review of "What has changed."
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.
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 core77.com and jnd.org. bit.ly/NZckqz )
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.
Video: Don Norman speaks out about engineering design education
22 April 2012
This is a short, 3 minute video, that captures the dilemma of modern education. Engineering education has become narrower and deeper. We teach and train specialties and specialists. Practical applications require tying together the knowledge of the many specialties. They require generalists, people who have broad, integrated understanding of the world. We need an educational system that rewards those who are broad and knowledgable as well as those who are deep and narrow, even if the broad knowledge comes at the expense of shallow depth. Being narrow is just as big a liability as being shallow. We need both kinds of people. Alas, the university hires, teaches, and trains only the deep and narrow.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
THE TRANSMEDIA DESIGN CHALLENGE: Co-Creation
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.
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 â€œpleaseâ€ and â€œthank you.â€ 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Post Disciplinary Revolution: Industrial Design and Human Factors?Heal Yourselves
29 July 2004
Outline of an invited keynote address at the 1998 annual meeting of the Human Factors society. They hated it.
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.