Don Norman: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered Design For A Better World.

About Don Norman

Don Norman’s seminal work, “The Design of Everyday Things,” explores how design serves as a communication channel between object and user. His insights into making technology more user-friendly and intuitive have revolutionized how we interact with everyday objects.

His latest book, “Design for a Better World,” continues Don’s story, focusing on what he feels he ”left out” of Design For Everyday Things: Humanity.
In Design For A Better World: Meaningful, sustainable, and humanity-centered design, Norman challenges us to rethink our behaviours and the economic metrics that drive commerce and manufacturing, advocating for a world that emphasizes quality of life over monetary rewards.

Don Norman’s influence extends beyond his writing. He is the director of The Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, and a co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group. As you’ll learn by watching this interview, Don’s commitment to fostering new talent and innovation is exemplified by the Don Norman Design Award Summit. To be held in November 2024, the event celebrates early-career practitioners and educational organizations that impact society through Humanity-Centered Design.

This is a far reaching and important conversation.

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About Humanity Centered Design

You might think the shift from ‘Human Centred Design’ to ‘Humanity Centred Design’ mere semantics. Human – Humanity… Aren’t they the same thing? What’s the difference?.. You’re a human… you’re part of humanity.

Rather than listening to me, I’ll use the words of Don Norman to explain.

Human centred fails to emphasise the larger concerns and the need for increased sensitivity to biases and prejudices against certain societal groups. The phrase ‘humanity centred’ emphasizes designs that take into account the sociotechnical system in which people (you) reside.

For all products, both physical and nonphysical, design must address the impact on fairness, equity, prejudice and bias. The phrase ‘humanity centred’ emphasises the rights of all of humanity and addresses the entire ecosystem, including all living creatures and the earth’s environment…

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don norman

What we speak about with Don Norman

“Almost everything you see is artificial…Our lives are governed by arbitrary and artificial measurements….” What is this artificiality you speak of at the beginning of the book?

A great example of hierarchical versus emergent – natural systems seem to just function better, these are emergent. How could we learn from nature to design things better?

“Why does History matter?’ Why?

Before we get to humanity centred design, what are we designing for? What are we trying to solve? What are the challenges and problems that this artificiality has brought us to? You speak of climate change, would you say this is the largest threat and most important challenge facing humanity? Should we prioritise this above all else? 

Humanity centered design

You break the book down into three main parts… Meaningful…. Sustainable and… humanity centred. If we look at those in order…

Meaningful. 

‘Economic measures such as GDP, the Consumer Price Index, employment and unemployment rates, and others are clearly important, but they fail to measure the critical values that are important to citizens… Measures such as the GPI and HDI begin to address these issues, but they still are constrained by the methods of traditional economic measurement and reporting.’

What is meaningful? What measures are truly important to people? 


Sustainable

“The twentieth century was the age of waste: pervasive, ubiquitous and harmful waste – a plague that is still with us in the twenty-first century.  The Waste Age Exhibit at the London Design Museum made the point quite dramatically. I spent three days discussing the issue with people from the Design Museum, the UK Design Council and the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. We all agreed that design was a major source of the problem…”

The throwaway economy…planned obsolescence…obsolescence through progress…obsolescence through fashion…our fucked up world is the by-product (**my words, not Don’s), a side effect of humanity’s incessant drive for more for less..

  • Could you explain WHY design has been such a major source of the problem?

  • You say Science, technology, engineering and mathematics are not the answer, but rather advocate for the Circular economy of repair, reuse, regenerate…Could you expand on this? And What  is CIRCULAR DESIGN? 

“The designs often make it difficult to repair or replace components – for example, batteries in laptops and phones – which leads to premature obsolescence. There is waste at every stage of the life of a product, even after it has been discarded.” 

  • Sustainable, robust, resilient systems… can we design antifragile systems?

Boom! I think in this part we don’t like don waffle (I think he might waffle. I could be wrong) and just ask questions… when he answers, move to the next…

Humanity Centred 
  • What is humanity-centred design? 
  • How is it different from human-centred design? 
  • What are the FIVE Principles of humanity-centred design? 
  • How do we democratise design? – and why is that not enough by itself?

 

“Although I am a champion of community-led efforts and the DIY movement, many of the world’s problems are far too large and complex to be done by small volunteer organisations…actually complex sociotechnical systems. How can designers play a role?”

There are so many intricacies and interdependencies with global challenges like these. What process should we take to make tangible progress in such big problems? What is the difference between designing for an individual and designing for a community? What are the strategies for coordination? How do you define success with complex socio technological systems?

The world unfortunately operates in a “me” instead of “us” mindset. How do you inspire long-range thinking when most countries or individuals are thinking about their backyards and today? How can you incentivize humanity centered design?

What are the most important skills of a facilitator?

Describe the problem of Western bias in limiting our ability to solve big problems. How do we approach creating awareness?

  • What is incremental modular design? 
  •  
  • Human Behaviour – The Major Challenge
  • Why is change difficult?
  • Why will people mobilise for a common goal? 
    • People come together quickly but fade away after the initial catalyzing moment, how can we do better here to inspire long range involvement

 

Technology! What role does technology play Don? 

What are some great examples of successfully implemented humanity-centered design?

Real design case studies. Don, how do we use humanity-centred design to:

 

  1. Construct homes and buildings
  2. Computer technology
  3. Transport infrastructure
  4. The food chain
  5. Education 

 

The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman is a seminal work in the field of design and usability. This influential book delves into the principles of human-centered design, emphasizing the importance of creating products that are intuitive and user-friendly. Norman introduces key concepts such as affordances and signifiers, which help designers understand how users interact with objects. He also explores the psychology behind good and bad design, providing practical guidelines to improve usability.

Originally published in 1988 and revised in 2013, this book remains a must-read for anyone interested in design, psychology, or human-computer interaction. Norman’s insights into making everyday objects more accessible and enjoyable have had a lasting impact on the design industry… And us.

 

Why are we reading The Design of Everyday Things?

In a world saturated with AI created content, human thought is more important and powerful than ever. But reading books isn’t enough. You have to read the right books: books which have stood the test of time; books applicable across domains; books that are as relevant today as they will be in ten, fifty, a hundred years time.

At least that’s what we think. Which is why our next book was first published in 1988.

It’s a story of how people interact with technology. The good, the bad and the ugly of UX and design. What works and what doesn’t. Why it works and the frameworks and mental models that will help you improve your own designs, whatever they may be. Storytelling, design constraints, human error, culture, competitive forces, launching a new product, complexity, human-centred design. You’ll never look at your kettle or a web page in the same way again.

Here’s a quote: ‘If I were placed in the cockpit of a modern jet airliner, my inability to perform well would neither surprise nor bother me. But why should I have trouble with doors and light switches, water faucets and stoves?”

And here’s another: “Good design requires good communication, especially from machine to person, indicating what actions are possible, what is happening, and what is about to happen.”

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