Session 26

Design for Users: The Big Picture


Environment, Technology, and Society

Donald Norman, Commentator

This session serves as a bookend to our explorations of user-centered design this semester. In Session 3, we began to discuss Donald Norman's analysis of how users understand and use everyday things. Today, we consider some of Norman's views closer to our time. In the time since he wrote The Design of Everyday Things, he worked at Apple Computer for several years as a part of an "interface development team". He recounts some of his experiences and changes of thought in the two works I had you read for today:

I hope that you enjoyed reading "Design as Practiced" and "A Conversation with Don Norman". Norman has an interesting perspective on design, one that I find very appealing even when I disagree. He makes me think.

As I stated earlier this semester, I recommend that eevryone who makes things for others to use, including teachers, business people, and graphic designers, read Norman's The Design of Everyday Things.

Exercise: Design for Users, as Practiced in Industry

Work in teams based on a number assigned in class.

Task 1

Construct a list of three items in "Design as Practiced" and "A Conversation with Don Norman" that are most important for a capstone student to think about.

For each item:

Task 2

Construct a list of three ways in which Norman's ideas about interfaces changed between the time he wrote his book and the time he wrote "Design as Practiced" and gave "A Conversation with Don Norman".

For each item:

Task 3

Construct an argument for or against the assertion, "A computer is not like other devices. We cannot expect its interface to 'go away'."

At the End

The tangible result of your work will be your lists and summaries from Tasks 1 and 2, and your argument from Task 3.

Summary of Discussion

As an academic, Norman assumed that behavioral analysis of users on task and usability studies were all that was needed to create good interface. Circa 1990, he made a conscious choice to move into industry, to "practice what he preached" and have an effect on the design of real products. This pair of readings recount his experience working on the Macintosh power buttons.

Norman's time in industry has helped him to appreciate the breadth of the design problem; going in, he focused mostly on the depth of the problem. He learned that what he had always called "dumb decisions" were, in fact, reasonable decisions in the context of Apple's culture. He learned that design was more than behavioral analysis of and usability studies; it also included aesthetics, technical environment, cultural environment, corporate organization, and business realities. Ultimately, Norman has come to a broader appreciation of the difficulty of the task of designing good interfaces--and of the good designs that exist in spite of the difficulties.

Of course, he also still believes that, ultimately, we who develop software and other things for people to use need to find a way to make our products more accessible, more task- and user-oriented, less "there". Ultimately, he still believes that we need to make the computer 'go away'. Is that possible?? Is it desirable??

Here are three important ideas that I got from the paper:

Students Summaries

Eugene Wallingford ==== ==== December 16, 2003