Don Norman  

“The Don” Reveals All: Part 2

November 14th, 2004 by Don Norman :: see related comic

Dear Dr. Norman,

Do you prefer Macintosh or perhaps Red Delicious? I must admit though, Granny Smith is difficult to top for baking purposes…


For years I preferred Macintosh, but then they went into a long period of poor crops, so I switched away. (They recently have regained their old sprightliness and taken on a new edge, so I have started sampling them again.) I switched to Fuji and then had a brief fling with Gala. But the current favorite is Jonagold, a hybrid. Hybrids are often to be preferred: too much reliance on a single form is dangerous: and subject to drift, and invasion by pests. Hybrids are more stable.

Baking is different. For baking I prefer OK/cancel because its tartness survives even intense heat.> Hi Don,

> Your book “The Design of Everyday Things” opened my eyes to a whole new world of unusable doors, etc. But over the years, as I hear those in our profession rant about unusable objects, I have to wonder whether people are drawn to the usability profession because we’re unable to function in the everyday world and want it to cater to our special needs. I mean… normal people don’t care that their VCR has been blinking 12:00 since they bought it - the VCR is for playing videos; for telling time they have clocks. And if they want to record a show when they won’t be home, they call a friend (normal people have those too) and ask them to do it as a favor. Are we fundamentally mal-adapted?

> Carolyn :-)

Carolyn. You are most perceptive: we are indeed fundamentally mal-adapted.

In the field of Psychology, a discipline that I once inhabited, it is well known that the best researchers studied the areas in which they were least capable. Color-blind researchers were experts on color perception. Semi-deaf researchers studied hearing. I studied memory. It was only after much effort that I was able to reverse this trend and study something I was particularly good at: human error.

In the field of usability studies, I have observed that the trend continues. My own home is filled with clocks, each telling a different time of day (or night). Our home is filled with blinking objects. As for doors and lights — I always ask my wife to work these for me.

I have observed other usability professionals at work: all are quite incompetent at the use of their equipment, whether it be a simple tape recorder or a more complex time-encoded, digitally stabilized, multiple window video time-stamped recording system.

Your comment that many cope by calling friends falls on deaf ears here (yes, I started my psychological studies in psychoacoustics — hearing). I do have friends, but all seem equally incapable. After an important TV event, everyone emails one another asking “did you record it?” The answer is frequently “yes, I have it,” but when the tape is examined, it is invariably blank, or contains some other show, or perhaps just the boring parts of the event.

But, let me reveal a secret to success in consulting: turn failures into features. This is why I am so expert at my profession. I can find problems that others miss. I cause demos to fail, well behaved products to misbehave. One session with me and the company recognizes what sad shape it is in, and why it needs help.

We are indeed mal-adapted: revel in that fact.

> Oakley is well known for making fashionable and functionable glasses, but I have question on this pair of sunglasses. It looks like a bra. I tried it on, it messed up my hair. I really think this pair of sunglasses will only looked good on a bald men. Maybe “The Don” can evaluate this unique design of glasses for us?!?

> Thks! – Kat

Kat. I think you show a poor attitude for someone interested in making products better for people. It is most unprofessional to denigrate TheUser (r). Bald people (let’s not be sexist) need sunglasses just as much as hairy people. Bras are good — uplifting, even, which is a fine emotion. As sunglasses, they bring cheer and delight to an otherwise gloomy world.

But to each their own, which is why the world of products is so inspiring. With all the billions of people in the world, we need a plethora of products: product designers will never run out of work. Bra sunglasses for bald men, saddle bags for others. We must treat each of TheUser ® with sensitivity and warmth.

® “TheUser” is registered, copyrighted, and copylefted. All rights preserved.

> Do you think HCI is a science? If yes, do you think we can have a systematic and forever valid HCI theory in the end? If no, then what is HCI, and what is our position as HCI practitioners?

I believe you are suffering from what is called “category error.” No profession is a science. Practitioners are not scientists and it is a mistake to pretend to be one. Similarly, scientists are miserable practitioners. These are different categories.

Look at medicine, law, civil engineering. and programming to take four simple examples. Most professions are based upon science, but they are engineering, which means much of what they do is still an art form. Civil engineering is a good example. Bridges fail. Dams break. Programming errors proliferate — software is buggy, malformed. This is to be expected when the pure dictates of a science are applied to the real, messy, unpredictable world. This is why we need consultants and Gurus. Biology and mathematics do not need consultants. Medicine and economics do. So too with programming, bridge design and construction, and the applied world of HCI.

> Why does Jakob make up so many numbers?

By Jakob, I assume you are referring to Guru Jakob. It is only polite to use the full title. I have found Guru J. to be honest, trustworthy, and consistent. In this case, he is simply following one of his earliest proclamations: “83% of the statistics on the web are made up (including this one).”

_When “The Don” is being serious, he can be found at Ask him questions at: . Also check out a full list of “The Don” Reveals All._

3 Responses to ““The Don” Reveals All: Part 2”
Burt wrote:

How important do you think it is to address the user experience when designing products, how does usability and emaotion relate to this user experience? And elements does the user experience consist of.

El Nickster wrote:

Burt - you may want to read ‘Emotional Design’ by Don Norman ;)


links wrote:

OK/Cancel: “The Don” Reveals All: Part 2…

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?