Don Norman: Living with Complexity

Don Norman: Vice President of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple Computer, and an executive at both Hewlett Packard and UNext; Author, The Design of Future Things: Author of The Design of Everyday Things

Living with Complexity: Why logic is wrong, why you should first do, then learn, and why owning an iPod, iPhone, PC, iPad, Kindle, a TV set, books, and a desktop computer — all of them — is good, sane, and perfectly natural.

Complexity is not only good, it is essential. Our lives are complex as are the activities we do. Our tools must match the activities. People think they want simplicity, but they are wrong, as evidenced by the fact that when offered the choice between a very simple product and one with more features, they opt for the feature-laden one. We don’t want simplicity: we want understanding. Complex things can be made understandable: that is the role of good design. One solution is modularity, which is why we have so many different kitchen utensils. Which is why owing a portable computer, a desktop computer, a smart phone, and a pad computer — all of them — makes sense for some people. Each is used for a different reason, in a different setting for different purposes.

Now that material has to be available and usable on a wide variety of devices, what does this mean for designers of electronic media? Answer: It’s a nightmare. You have a challenge ahead of you. It’s better for people, but a nightmare for the design and maintenance staff.

Dr. Norman is cofounder of the Nielsen Norman Group, an executive consulting firm that helps companies produce human-centered products and services, Professor at Northwestern University, Prof. Emeritus of the University of California, San Diego, and co-director of Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute; founded by Crate & Barrel creators Gordon and Carole Segal. He has been Vice President of Apple Computer and an executive at Hewlett Packard. He was President of the Learning Systems division of UNext, an early, online education company.

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