Don Norman  

“The Don” Reveals All: Part 4

June 6th, 2005 by Don Norman :: see related comic

> Will the use of computers be mainly rational (predictable, controlled, logical, etc) forever?

Is this meant to be a serious question?

I see no evidence that computers of today are rational. The certainly aren’t predictable. Who controls them? Demons? All the many computers in my home are indeed controlled, but I don’t know by whom. As for logical, well, I have long maintained that logic is an artificial way of thought, invented by mathematicians and philosophers who were dissatisfied with the way that ordinary people think. Why must my life be ruled by some artificial convention that, by design, is not at all how I or any other living human actually thinks?

Hmm, your question, I now see, was not about how computers work, but about the “use of computers.” Same answer: The most exciting use of computers today is for music and art, creativity and imagination. Yeah, they are also used for all those dull, deadly (but critically important) tasks of controlling our infrastructures, but the exciting stuff is anything but rational or predictable.
The exciting stuff is fun, adventurous, and creative.

(And if you think the control of our infrastructure is rational, then you must be that rare individual who hasn’t suffered an electric grid failure, or identity theft, or loss of critical information, or website meltdown, or mistaken identity, or …., recently.)

So, what was your question?

> Dear Don:
> I am not a designer, I am just a brain damaged user.
> I am so brain damaged that often I feel that pretty things aren’t necessary useful things, so here’s the question:
> Does Good Design Has To Be Pretty ?

> Dear Don,
> You talked about Good Design, and you even have a book on Good Design. I haven’t purchased the book yet, because I am too poor, brain damaged users are often poor.
> So the follow up question:
> Does Good Design has to be intuitive ?
> If we are talking about “Intuitiveness”, what exactly are we talking about ?


Does Good Design Has To Be Pretty ?
Does Good Design has to be intuitive ?


Two examples of common questions.

Goodness. Ah, now there is a topic. Pretty? One person’s pretty is another’s hideous. Pretty is a word I refuse to use. Intuitive is a word that is so badly misused that I also refuse to use it.

The best designs are those that are executed with care and concern for those who will be subjected to them. So they should function well, they should provide a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, and pride, even, to those using them, and yes, they should exhibit a sense of quality, of the attractiveness that adds to their pleasure. For many, the most attractive are those where attractiveness is not something tacked on afterwards (what designers often sneeringly refer to as “mere styling”) but rather that comes about naturally, as in the Eiffel tower where the form results directly from the physical constraints of the structure.
Natural design, natural form.

Are good designs attractive? Usually. Are attractive designs good? Not necessarily. This is a one-way implication. Good does imply attractive.
Attractiveness does not necessarily imply good.

As for intuitive. Bah. The word “intuitive” means that no conscious knowledge or effort seems to be required. Invariably, these are behavioral level skills that have been overlearned – practices for years and years. Things riding a bicycle and using a pencil are intuitive. And all of these took years to acquire.

So whenever someone says that wish their designs to be intuitive, I always wonder they want their users to have to spend years learning to use the thing.

Good design can be learned and used quickly and easily, with one or two trials.

Will instruction or a manual be necessary? Sometimes. There is nothing wrong with having to explain the principles of operation. It is wrong only when that same explanation has to be given a second time or, as with most poorly designed items, over and over again.

_When “The Don” Norman is being serious, he can be found at Ask him questions at: (and yes, it’s really answered by him). Also check out a full list of “The Don” Reveals All._

5 Responses to ““The Don” Reveals All: Part 4”
Logic Isnt That Bad wrote:

Logic helps in answering things you otherwise can’t. Like answering “What do you mean when you say something is intuitive?”. Use logic, contra-positive actually, explain what is counter-intuitive and see if the object of discussion is counter intuitive, if not it is intuitive.
Agreed intuition takes years and years of acquaintance. Let’s say you’re writing a windows app. People have already gone through years of using windows apps and intuitively know/expect some widgets to behave in a certain way. As long as the app being written does not evoke any (nasty or otherwise) surprises to the user, it can be called intuitive.

Don Norman wrote:

Um, duh. Your argument is circular, and therefore logically irrelevant. You assume something either is or it isn’t. Hence, something is either intuitive or counter-intuitive. But what if I deny that premise?

Mathematicians love simple axioms of this sort which then lets them derive al sorts of wonderful results. People then critically examine the math and forget to examine the axioms. The axioms are usually faulty, at least as descriptions of human behavior. (Economists are the worst offenders here.)

Lots of things are sort-of intuitive, except not quite. The world is continuous and fuzzy, not binary and discrete. Read (the later) Wittgenstein.

So you ain’t proved nothing yet.

Don Norman

Greg wrote:

Well, the world at its most fundamental level is discrete AND fuzzy (and thus quite paradoxical). This is at least what modern quantum mechanics says (in contrast to General Relativity, of course). (But you may of course try to look beyond the fog bank of QM by reading such books as The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene; for his new book see his interview at

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