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.
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:
- explain why it is important, and
- discuss how, if at all, the things you did during this course
affected your opinions about the item.
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:
- explain what led to the change, and
- discuss how, if at all, this course can help students undergo a
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
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:
- Technical ideas are often drowned by pragmatic issues of business and
- Understanding context is critical to evaluating designs and
to creating good designs.
- When you are asked to solve a problem, look beyond it. Ask why the
problem arose, what it means. Step outside the technical realm, if
- Today we talked about Norman. How his views are different in his book
than they are now because he worked at Microsoft for two years after
he wrote the book. In the book he usually blamed the designers when
the products weren't designed the way he thought they should be.
After working around computers for two years, he realized he was
wrong. He learned that the designers were really smart and they
didn't have much control over how computers and computer programs are
made. I also learned what an interface was today. As you explained
it, an interface is the boundary between two things. For example, the
keyboard is the interface between the computer and I. My group agreed
that a computer is not like other devices, it's interface will not go
away. I don't know how you could use a computer without a keyboard or
a mouse. Maybe in the future we will, but it's hard right now to see
how that is possible. Most everything has an interface, but it is not
as noticeable as a keyboard and a mouse is to a computer.
- The focus of our class discussion was on interfaces. Before today, if
you would have asked me what interfaces were I would not have known.
Today I learned that an interface sits between users and computers. In
our group work, we discussed this quote,"A computer is not like other
devices. We cannot expect its interface to 'go away'." I am in
agreement because compared to a toaster or driving a car, I still have
to figure out how to get through Microsoft Word every time I get on a
computer. [but can we do better?? Maybe computer users should expect more
from the peopl who write software. I do. -- Eugene ] Not every computer
works the same way, so it is a challenge everytime I sit down to do work.
With a toaster, there are not very many ways to toast bread. There may be
some different facets to each toaster, but in general, they all work the same
way. Norman implies that it would be nice if we could sit down
at a computer and go, just like we sit down at a car and drive. When
using Adobe Photoshop, I am finally to a point where I would say the
computer's software interfaces do go away. I work on projects 4-5 hours
in one sitting and generally after the first hour I'm in the zone.
Using Microsoft Word is a whole new ball game. Everytime I use the
program I'm refiguring how to get from one place to the next.
Ultimately, I enjoyed talking about interfaces in class today and I do
think it will be a long time, if at all, until I can go in the "zone"
while using Microsoft Word or any other computer program.
- We talked in class about design for users, as practiced in industry.
For the first task we talked about the power switch problems with the
macintosh. The 3 items we said were: 1. It is hard to implement a
design for many people. 2. Cultural implications with symbols and
communications. 3. Technology changes so fast it is hard to keep up.
We said that these things are affected by communication and we look at
design before we use it or buy it. This also made us ponder deeply the
effects of certain designs. It is hard to think outside the box
The next task we said the ways were culturally, technologically,
and socially. We said that when we experienced it it is different than we
thought. There could be growth in technology. Different issues mean
different things in other cultures. We see the change by looking at
Our third task was to form an argument and we said that
technology is always changing so we should expect it to go away. Our argument
was against the assertion. Then we talked about it as a whole class. It
is interesting how much design can affects our lives!
- There are a few things that are important for students that came
from the article and the conversation with Don Norman, The three my
group had were: Cultural values, Corperate organization, and operating
under unstated assumptions.
There were some problems with apple and their powerswitch. Apple
computers used to be really complicated for users. There was an
argument about interfaces going away. People want to be able to use
the computer like they use simple things in life such as, doors,
books, and pencils. They do not want to have to think about what they
are doing. We discussed if there is a way to remove the interfaces
between people and computers. I think that the conclusion was that
right now there will always be interfaces.
- We talked about 3 things that are most important to capstone
students, and then explained why. We talked in the groups about how
Norman's ideas have changed since he wrote his book. Lastly in the
group we made an argument of whether or not we think a computer's
interface will ever go away. We also talked about what a interface is.
High points from classroom discussion:
- Norman found out its not only the designers fault, they have
trouble in making the products the way they want sometimes
because they have to deal with other people in the
corporation that have a say in what happens like the:
Accountants, Design Team, Production, and Management.
It's not always the designers fault: sometimes the things we want
can't be done.
People are not as stupid as we think they are. When they say
something out in left field somewhere. Say to yourself: In what world
would that make sense?
- Interface: Most of the time we dont think of interfaces.
A interface is what is between you and what is being used. Doorknob is
the doors interface.
- Adobe is the computer program with the best interface.
Because it is designed very well
Dont think about using the interface, everything is in a logical place
and makes since.
Eugene Wallingford ====
December 16, 2003