[anthrodesign] Norman replies to Nussbaum

30 Dec 2009 - 10:42pm
4 years ago
15 replies
928 reads
Jarod Tang
2007

More don's argument.
"
The reason is simple. People's needs come after the technologies exist. The
need for cooking came after the taming of fire (animals don't cook their
meals). The need for communication devices (telegraph, telephone, radio,
cellphone, internet, postal mail, email) came after the technologies made
them possible. People 1000 years ago did not have a need for email, or not
even for the telephone: it took the existence of technologies to make these
activities possible, which then slowly determined the need. (Remember, when
the telephone was first introduced, few people could conceive of why they
would want it. Hotels resisted it. Etc.)
"

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Melissa Cefkin <mcefkin at yahoo.com>
Date: Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 9:19 AM
Subject: [anthrodesign] Norman replies to Nussbaum
To: anthrodesign <anthrodesign at yahoogroups.com>

Did this already circulate? If so, sorry for the repost.

Nussbaum's critique of Norman's conclusions about design research and
innovation. Followed by some interesting discussion. Including a reply by
Norman himself which begins: "Sorry folks, but I think you miss the point. I
too bristled at Norman's conclusion -- and I happen to be Norman."

http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2009/12/technology_vs_c.html

I'm slightly troubled by the one-to-one correspondence between "design
research" and "ethnography", here, and feel like the whole discussion, while
striking some valid cords in several places, is somewhat aimed at the wrong
level - design specs, vs. strategies more broadly.

Best wishes for a Happy 2010!

Melissa

Melissa Cefkin
mcefkin[at]yahoo.com or mcefkin[at]alumni.rice.edu

Editor: "Ethnography and the Corporate Encounter: Reflections on Research in
and of Corporations"

www.berghahnbooks.com/title.php?rowtag=CefkinEthnography
www.amazon.com/Ethnography-Corporate-Encounter-Corporations-Anthropology

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Comments

31 Dec 2009 - 1:38pm
Marc Resnick
2006

I think it's a false argument. A really good ethnographer can
anticipate (through ethnographic study) the value of a technology
that does not yet exist to satisfy a user need. But there are few
"really good" ethnographers.

Until the user knows the functionality is possible, they are not
going to pine after it. So it helps to have a technology to point to
so that users can get a sense of what is possible and imagine what
they could do with it that would create a new need.

And to be honest, whether you call it ethnography or design research
is just semantics, as long as there are people doing it and doing it
well. We can call it boogedy boogedy and it is just as valuable.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48144

31 Dec 2009 - 2:22pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Dec 31, 2009, at 10:38 AM, marc resnick wrote:

> A really good ethnographer can
> anticipate (through ethnographic study) the value of a technology
> that does not yet exist to satisfy a user need.

I've mostly seen this scenario during research --> product:

"Assume there was a magic button that you could press that would help you. How would it work?" The subjects then describe that, and after compiling and distilling those answers, the designers/researchers look for existing or in-development technology solutions that could get (most of) the job done.

I've seldom seen designers or researchers then propose a new technology that would then do what is necessary. At many companies, this would be laughed at. I assume this would be possible in some large companies, academia or research labs. (In theory, this should be what academic research and R&D labs are for.)

But more often in practice, existing technologies are applied to new problems (which may spring from human needs), or new technologies are applied to existing problems (which may spring from human needs). (New technologies can also create new problems of course.) It seems a rare case indeed when an observed human need has driven a technological breakthrough. I think this is what Don has been saying, and since I can't come up with a set of reasonable counter-examples, I'm thinking he might be right.

Dan

Dan Saffer
Principal, Kicker Studio
http://www.kickerstudio.com
http://www.odannyboy.com

31 Dec 2009 - 3:38pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Dec 31, 2009, at 2:22 PM, Dan Saffer wrote:

> I've seldom seen designers or researchers then propose a new
> technology that would then do what is necessary. At many companies,
> this would be laughed at. I assume this would be possible in some
> large companies, academia or research labs. (In theory, this should
> be what academic research and R&D labs are for.)

What I don't understand is why anybody is thinking Don is saying
anything new?

I wrote about this in 1997: http://www.uie.com/articles/
market_maturity/ (Damn, I hope my writing has gotten better since then.)

Ed Chi, in the comments to the Nussbaum post (timestamped: "December
27, 2009 03:58 AM" - the dude needs to sleep more), mentions that he
thought the laser printer was a potential challenger to Norman's thesis:

"But, the real world is messy, you'd say---sometimes the need precedes
the invention, and other times it follows. I'd say "Yet other times,
they co-evolve." The invention of laser printing is a good example of
the need and the technology co-evolving. The need to mass produce
paper documents had been around for a long time. But later as people
started using computers, the need to translate graphics on the screen
into marks on paper evolved at the same time."

but then he sums it up with:

"I suppose one could argue that Xerography was the invention, and
laser printing was merely a refinement. We can go round and round on
that debate and not get anywhere."

I think the makers build and tweak first. In their case, it's all
about learning the medium. How far can we push it? What can it do?

Until we have a chance to see what the experiences are like from that
experimentation, we can't begin to understand how it fits into our
lives.

So, Donald Norman, welcome (once again) to our world. We're glad
you're finally joining us. :)

Jared

Jared M. Spool
User Interface Engineering
510 Turnpike St., Suite 102, North Andover, MA 01845
e: jspool at uie.com p: +1 978 327 5561
http://uie.com Blog: http://uie.com/brainsparks Twitter: @jmspool

31 Dec 2009 - 4:18pm
zakiwarfel
2004

On Dec 31, 2009, at 2:22 PM, Dan Saffer wrote:

> But more often in practice, existing technologies are applied to new problems (which may spring from human needs), or new technologies are applied to existing problems (which may spring from human needs).

Even if that means bending existing technologies into new forms to tackle newly found problems.

Cheers!

Todd Zaki Warfel
Principal Designer, Messagefirst
Author of Prototyping: a practitioner's guide http://bit.ly/protobk
----------------------------------
Contact Info
Voice: (215) 825-7423
Email: todd at zakiwarfel.com
Blog: zakiwarfel.com
Twitter: @zakiwarfel
----------------------------------
In theory, theory and practice are the same.
In practice, they are not.

1 Jan 2010 - 8:02pm
Jarod Tang
2007

Take for example "food preservation". Before refrigerator (
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigerator#History), food is preserved by
baking it or natural ice. Then, refrigerator breakthrough the way of
preserving food.
If talk about the "better refrigerator", needs comes after the tech. If talk
about the "preserving food", tech comes after the needs. This depends on how
we view the process.
Co-evolve maybe the case ( as above said ), they depends on each other.

Cheers,
-- Jarod

On Fri, Jan 1, 2010 at 5:18 AM, Todd Zaki Warfel <lists at zakiwarfel.com>wrote:

>
> On Dec 31, 2009, at 2:22 PM, Dan Saffer wrote:
>
> > But more often in practice, existing technologies are applied to new
> problems (which may spring from human needs), or new technologies are
> applied to existing problems (which may spring from human needs).
>
> Even if that means bending existing technologies into new forms to tackle
> newly found problems.
>
> Cheers!
>
> Todd Zaki Warfel
> Principal Designer, Messagefirst
> Author of Prototyping: a practitioner's guide http://bit.ly/protobk
> ----------------------------------
> Contact Info
> Voice: (215) 825-7423
> Email: todd at zakiwarfel.com
> Blog: zakiwarfel.com
> Twitter: @zakiwarfel
> ----------------------------------
> In theory, theory and practice are the same.
> In practice, they are not.
>
> ________________________________________________________________
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1 Jan 2010 - 8:28pm
jet
2008

Jarod Tang wrote:
> Take for example "food preservation". Before refrigerator (
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refrigerator#History), food is preserved by
> baking it or natural ice.

Or pickling, canning, salting, etc.

--
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2 Jan 2010 - 12:54am
Ed H. Chi
2010

Jared and others,

In case it wasn't clear, I believe argumentation about "whether
needs or technology came first" isn't a fruitful way forward. More
importantly, we should examine what we mean by 'disruption'.

In my comments, I said:
"Ultimately, the measuring stick that we ought to use is the amount
of impact each (tech vs. design) brings to the innovation process.
... It is much easier to think of major disruptions coming from the
technology side. ... To wit, that's why it we call it a
"disruption"! It disrupts current ways of doing things. There is an
element of surprise in the "disruption", suggesting that the need
might not have been there yet."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48144

3 Jan 2010 - 9:26am
Mark Schraad
2006

Analysis of history (such as Norman's essay) tells what approach has
been used most frequently, but it fails to answer the implied question
of 'what is the best approach?' Everett Rogers (diffusion of
innovation) provides significantly more insight into what makes
products successful. In an earlier writing Don got it right... it is
form, function and fit. Technology... a business initiative... user
needs, they all led to potentially successful products. MBA's and
Engineers have been running businesses for the last 100 years. It is
no real surprise that their domains have lead these product efforts.

As for disruption... I might suggest looking at Christensen's
definition. It has more to do with taking advantage of established
companies tendencies towards arrogance and complacency (my
interpretation). Rooted in efforts to "maximize" profit in the short
term... that arrogance typically leads to overestimating the profit a
company can extract from the next transaction. Smart companies share
the profit in each transaction with the purchaser in an attempt to
build a long term relationship. The least costly customer to attain is
the one you already have... and sustainable longer term revenue is the
key to building a company. Focusing on the next reporting period
typically leads to something along the lines of a mugging... which of
course is not sustainable. Most disruptive efforts (as displayed by
Christensen et al) undercut established company's pricing by stripping
away features that are not desired by the consumer.

Mark

On Jan 1, 2010, at 9:54 PM, Ed H.Chi wrote:

> Jared and others,
>
> In case it wasn't clear, I believe argumentation about "whether
> needs or technology came first" isn't a fruitful way forward. More
> importantly, we should examine what we mean by 'disruption'.
>
> In my comments, I said:
> "Ultimately, the measuring stick that we ought to use is the amount
> of impact each (tech vs. design) brings to the innovation process.
> ... It is much easier to think of major disruptions coming from the
> technology side. ... To wit, that's why it we call it a
> "disruption"! It disrupts current ways of doing things. There is an
> element of surprise in the "disruption", suggesting that the need
> might not have been there yet."
>
>
> . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
> Posted from the new ixda.org
> http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48144
>
>
> ________________________________________________________________
> Welcome to the Interaction Design Association (IxDA)!
> To post to this list ....... discuss at ixda.org
> Unsubscribe ................ http://www.ixda.org/unsubscribe
> List Guidelines ............ http://www.ixda.org/guidelines
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3 Jan 2010 - 10:28am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 3, 2010, at 9:26 AM, mark schraad wrote:

> Analysis of history (such as Norman's essay) tells what approach has
> been used most frequently, but it fails to answer the implied
> question of 'what is the best approach?' Everett Rogers (diffusion
> of innovation) provides significantly more insight into what makes
> products successful. In an earlier writing Don got it right... it is
> form, function and fit. Technology... a business initiative... user
> needs, they all led to potentially successful products. MBA's and
> Engineers have been running businesses for the last 100 years. It is
> no real surprise that their domains have lead these product efforts.

The interesting thing about analysis is what is left out as much as
what is included.

There have been many instances of technologies that haven't
revolutionized the world or even been interesting to the customers it
was intended for. Some technologies (like the Apple Newton) were
important from an evolutionary standpoint while being a practical
marketplace failure.

Great experiences come after we've mastered the technology. You can't
even begin to talk about experience until you've done that. If you
look at the DVR as a game changing radical experience, you couldn't
talk about it without talking about the VCR first. But the VCR was an
experience disaster, albeit popular in the marketplace, because the
market was satisfied by the technology alone.

The demand of great experiences only comes from the frustration left
behind by a better understanding of the experience because of the
rough edges of the technology.

>
> As for disruption... I might suggest looking at Christensen's
> definition. It has more to do with taking advantage of established
> companies tendencies towards arrogance and complacency (my
> interpretation). Rooted in efforts to "maximize" profit in the short
> term... that arrogance typically leads to overestimating the profit
> a company can extract from the next transaction.

It's interesting you bring that up. I was just listening to Prof.
Christensen talking about just that:

Reinventing Your Business Model | HBR IdeaCast
http://blogs.bnet.com/intercom/?p=1937

> For big, established firms, introducing a new business model is no
> easy task, especially when there’s some start-up poised to steal
> business the minute the competitive landscape changes. But according
> to disruptive innovation expert Clay Christensen, if companies truly
> understand how their new business model relates to the old one, a
> profitable transition is possible. Christensen points to IBM, which
> switched profitably from the mainframe market to the PC market, for
> proof that it can be done right.

See this article too: http://bit.ly/5B6dyn

Basically, his thesis is that it isn't arrogance that prevents moving
to the newer disruptive business model. It's an investment in marginal
profits.

In the podcast, he blames business school professors, including
himself, for focusing MBAs on ignoring sunk costs and focusing on
marginal profits. He says that when you compare pure financial ROIs,
the existing business model will always look better than new
disruptive business models, since the new model has higher up front
costs. That's why, he claims, it's really hard to switch.

If you find this subject interesting, I highly recommend you read the
article and listen to the podcast.

Jared

3 Jan 2010 - 10:33am
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jan 1, 2010, at 9:54 PM, Ed H.Chi wrote:

> In my comments, I said:
> "Ultimately, the measuring stick that we ought to use is the amount
> of impact each (tech vs. design) brings to the innovation process.
> ... It is much easier to think of major disruptions coming from the
> technology side. ... To wit, that's why it we call it a
> "disruption"! It disrupts current ways of doing things. There is an
> element of surprise in the "disruption", suggesting that the need
> might not have been there yet."

You did say that and I apologize for removing that part of the quote.

However, I don't completely buy it.

There's both active and latent needs. Active needs are what we know
right now, what we can elaborate. (Right now, I need a chocolate chip
cookie.) Latent needs are needs that I have, but I can't elaborate
because I don't have a context to put my words into.

Fax machines changed the world of communication, giving us the ability
to transmit documents over huge geographical distances almost
instantaneously. But the need to do that wasn't new. It went back
thousands of years, which is why emperors and wealthy business men
used messengers.

However, if you went back to one of the emperors of the Ming Dynasty
and asked them what they needed, they would never say they needed a
fax machine.

And to Don's point, the ethnographers of the time wouldn't have come
up with that design solution either.

The question about disruptions is: could the disruption happen earlier
than it does? Or do latent needs require time to hatch?

Jared

3 Jan 2010 - 11:31am
maarten de jager
2009

Our favorite design Jester is at work again. (It's usability! No,
it's aesthetics! No, it's technology! ;) - I probably skipped a
few)

It is of course a very interesting discussion that leads us to think
about what technology really is, and what user needs really are.
Norman shuffles these around a bit as the need for fast, easy and
cheap communication 1000 years ago does not include the need for
email, and cavemen tamed fire just for the fun of it. I do believe
that cooking was not directly a priority, but that safety and warmth
could (nobody knows) have led to the taming of fire (the technology
of controlling fire).

There are of course many technological innovations that were driven
by needs; we only have to look at the army and its history to find an
abundance of examples there. But these are very strong, obvious and
immediate needs (ie: 'don't die'). Not the kind of needs you need
a design researcher to uncover, and not the kind of needs Norman is
probably aiming at.

But what are the kinds of needs he is aiming at? Hidden needs that
large groups people have in common, which a design researcher might
uncover, and which would lead to a break through technology? That
these hidden needs did not lead to technologies such as "the
airplane" is in my opinion not really a fair assesment of the design
practice. ;)

I think that there are still plenty of ways in which design research
drives technology, but often geared towards very specific user groups
(also by virtue of the nature of design research). And if technology
is: "the practical application of knowledge especially in a
particular area" then design can do nothing but drive technology.
But again, this is probably not the kind of technology that Norman is
talking about.

All in all I believe that Norman creates rigid divisions where
reality is much more vague, very cyclical and very co-dependant. And
surprisingly at a time in which technology, design, and needs are
seemingly rapidly shifting in value - where the line between design
and functionality is becoming much less defined. (see "The
Transmedia Design Challenge: Technology that is Pleasurable and
Satisfying" http://interactions.acm.org/content/?p=1318)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48144

3 Jan 2010 - 7:56pm
Jarod Tang
2007

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Sam Ladner <samladner at gmail.com>
Date: Sun, Jan 3, 2010 at 11:36 PM
Subject: Re: [anthrodesign] Norman replies to Nussbaum
To: anthrodesign at yahoogroups.com

Hi Arvind,

> *scratches head*
>> so, according to norman, we needed healthcare after doctors were invented?
>> or transportation after wheels were invented? or democracy after governments
>> were invented?
>>
>> I have to agree as well. I confess I don't have very strong opinions on
this post because I think it partly was in the spirit of provocation, and
not passionate belief. If that were its intent, it certainly worked!

When I think about the thesis that true disruptive innovation comes from
radical designs in engineering, all I can think about is Whyte's ridiculous
thesis that the invention of the stirrup changed the political economic
history of Europe. This is technological determinism, plain and simple.

What Norman misses (and I'm pretty sure he really knows to be true) is that
disruptive innovation is not about the artifact itself but the temporal,
social, economic, and political context of the innovation. This is what
Latour meant when he said that artifacts are IRREDUCIBLE to any other
artifact. This is what Heidegger meant when he said that we are products of
our "attachments" and "involvements."

Can you "design" a particular social, economic, and political context for a
new innovation to be taken up within? Absolutely! That is what good
ethnography does is understand the social, economic and political space.
Good ethnographers understand how that space functions, and how artifacts
fit within that space.

Simple "design research" on the other hand, looks at the artifact and its
social context. Its conclusions are typically focused primarily on the
artifact's design, not that of the social context. So it's valuable, yes,
but effective? All encompassing? Disruptive? Sometimes, maybe with a little
luck.

I personally am way more interested in designing the social context, through
the use of building social capital, for example, or by empowering people
with little voice in social / design charettes.

--
~~~~~
Sam Ladner, PhD
Sociologist
Toronto
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http://designforuse.blogspot.com/

4 Jan 2010 - 6:39am
Dimiter Simov
2006

Nice discussion. It made me think.

Norman says that innovation cannot come from design research. It seems that
for him invention and innovation are the same thing. They are pretty close,
yet Nussbaum is right by saying that "Invention has to have socio-economic
value to become innovation."

We cannot have innovation without technology. Can we have innovation without
design? We need design thinking to use the technology in a way that will
make sense to people; that is, to transform the invention into an
innovation.

Innovation may come from an old technology. Design research probably cannot
lead us to a technological invention; however, it can help us find
innovative ways of applying an existing technology. If we know how people
behave and what they need, we might be able to use the technology to match
their behavior (even modify it) or to satisfy their needs (and create new
needs).

Sometimes needs come after the technology, but in other cases, the needs
exist, and there is no technology to satisfy them. I want to be able to go
back a few years and do something the right way. I need to talk to my
deceased father. I cannot do these things, the technology does not exist,
yet I want and need to be able to do them.

Design can be applied before the technology even exists. Technology is a
technical means of being able to do something. When the means does not
exist, we simply assume the technology and design tools and ways of using
it.

Norman asks for counter-examples. It is hard to find them in the past. What
about the future? Think science fiction.

Various writers have described in detail time travel and ways of
communicating with previous generations. We do not have the technology, but
we already have various designs that demonstrate how these can be used.

Do we need to be able to cure cancer? Yes. Do we have the technology? No.
Are there people looking for the technology? Yes. Will we invent the
technology? I hope so. Will it be a medicine? Not necessarily.

Do we really need to cure cancer? Or maybe we just need to have the people
we care about around us? Research would show. The solution to cancer could
be a technology for regenerating human organs and bodies, or a technology
for storing the human mind and soul on a computer, or something else.

We can imagine these technologies and design the interactions. Technology
people may then find some insight in our designs (sci-fi books) and invent
technologies that make these interactions possible.

Has anything like this happened before?

Happy new 2010!

Dimiter Simov
Lucrat Ltd. www.lucrat.net
Netage Solutions Inc. www.netagesolutions.com

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Jarod
Tang
Sent: Thu, Dec 31, 2009 5:42
To: IXDA list
Subject: [IxDA Discuss] [anthrodesign] Norman replies to Nussbaum

More don's argument.
"
The reason is simple. People's needs come after the technologies exist. The
need for cooking came after the taming of fire (animals don't cook their
meals). The need for communication devices (telegraph, telephone, radio,
cellphone, internet, postal mail, email) came after the technologies made
them possible. People 1000 years ago did not have a need for email, or not
even for the telephone: it took the existence of technologies to make these
activities possible, which then slowly determined the need. (Remember, when
the telephone was first introduced, few people could conceive of why they
would want it. Hotels resisted it. Etc.)
"

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Melissa Cefkin <mcefkin at yahoo.com>
Date: Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 9:19 AM
Subject: [anthrodesign] Norman replies to Nussbaum
To: anthrodesign <anthrodesign at yahoogroups.com>

Did this already circulate? If so, sorry for the repost.

Nussbaum's critique of Norman's conclusions about design research and
innovation. Followed by some interesting discussion. Including a reply by
Norman himself which begins: "Sorry folks, but I think you miss the point. I
too bristled at Norman's conclusion -- and I happen to be Norman."

http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/NussbaumOnDesign/archives/2009/12/techn
ology_vs_c.html

I'm slightly troubled by the one-to-one correspondence between "design
research" and "ethnography", here, and feel like the whole discussion, while
striking some valid cords in several places, is somewhat aimed at the wrong
level - design specs, vs. strategies more broadly.

Best wishes for a Happy 2010!

Melissa

Melissa Cefkin
mcefkin[at]yahoo.com or mcefkin[at]alumni.rice.edu

4 Jan 2010 - 10:04pm
Anonymous

On Thu, Dec 31, 2009 at 1:22 PM, Dan Saffer <dan at odannyboy.com> wrote:

>
> I've seldom seen designers or researchers then propose a new technology
> that would then do what is necessary. At many companies, this would be
> laughed at.

I agree they would be laughed at. This discussion at core is about human
needs driving technology versus technologists driving technology further.
Unable to construct a response in a few lines, I wrote a short essay on
this and include it below. It is cross posted to the BusinessWeek forum.
------
Don Norman's argument in his latest essay "Technology first, human needs
last" goes something like this:

*Because*
Because the technology behind the 5 major things that made the industrial
and information revolution possible came from
tinkering/mathematics/engineering without deep consideration of human
needs...
(example technologies: automobile - the internal combustion engine; airplane
- aerodynamics of flight, 3axis control; telephone - conversion of speech
to electromagnetic signals; the computer - binary arithmetic, vacuum tubes,
transistors)

*Therefore*
I prove to my audience that design and design research isn't the first step
in innovation.
I prove to my audience that technology is a major leap and everything else
is incremental, value-added tweaks.

This argument is wrong, and really a statement of the cultural and political
status quo in technology development. This argument suggest that the status
quo should continue. This must be countered by designers. As I show below
the implications go well beyond innovation that is better targeted for human
use, but affects the progress of the human race across the board in many
fields. Let's unfold this...

*A few successes and many failures does not suggest a model of success *

If we limit ourselves to the 5 major things in the world that yielded major
technology breakthroughs, we are pitting 5 things of historic value versus
millions+ of things of no value at all. There are millions of theories,
research, and technological advances which YIELD NO SIGNIFICANT returns.
That is why they say that human knowledge doubles every 5 years whereas
major breakthroughs certainly do not. It would be easy to counter Norman's
argument by saying that on the whole the vast majority of technology-led
projects produce no major benefit to humankind (at least on the product
level) and so it is a hit or miss strategy (low success rate). So why do we
have so much faith in the wasteful engineering-driven approach?

*The Ugly Truth - The Bias of Engineers*

Anyone who has spent more than a few years in a technology industry knows
the ugly truth. There is a massive bias when innovating towards those ideas
that offer interesting technical advancement. Engineers prefer to work on
"hard" engineering problems. Why the bias? The culture/personality/training
of the engineer is techno-focused and DRIVEN to a WORLD of problems within
this focus. Problems that that may, for example, require a system level
solution or insights beyond his trained domain are NOT SO INTERESTING OR
EVEN GO UNOBSERVED. This insular focus is why hard drive companies keep
trying to build a bigger hard drive, or a faster hard drive, and all the
while more pressing real customer needs - like managing information and
warehousing data - go ignored. Their customer intimacy is mostly wasted,
they do little design research. Many startups have a strong sense of human
needs they are trying to tackle, the founders live or die on the basis of
being profitably useful to people in short order. So it is not like "design
thinking" never existed in the business cycle. But after the startup phase,
engineering culture dominates and peering into the needs of the customer and
designing for them is almost heresy. I've seen this over and over. Hard
drive companies stay hard drive companies all the way to their grave (even
with beautiful industrial design). Why do design research if your strategy
won't be affected by it!? As an example, I'm sure design research would
show that few people understand what a hard drive is, let alone what backing
up is, let alone how to navigate the "scary" windows file system. But
everyone wants their data safe! Engineers of course, do not suffer from
this dilemma between conceptual understanding and desire - they fully
understand hard drives and can keep their data safe and sound if they wish -
so they are not personally motivated by such "human" problems. Their
PREFERENCE is to work on technical and scientific problems like higher
capacity disk drives based on space-age materials. Yet, a designer amidst
the aforementioned problems may see a "radical" opportunity. He might
imagine a device that keeps a person's data perputually safe rather than a
traditional hard drive. The only reason for such a perpetual vault to exist
and its entire form would be to meet human needs, desires, and even their
fears.

*Most Grand Ideas Are Ignored or Go Unseen By Engineers*

The findings of design research are usually human needs, and often the
appropriate response is not technology but complex design (which may then
require a technological advance). Innovation must crystallize mercurial
human desires in a tangible form. But we've shown that among engineers
there is a bias towards techno-centric innovation. It turns out that this
bias against design research is symptomatic of a much larger, more profound
problem. You see, design research whether formal or informal (akin to the
designer's intuition) reveals human needs, but human needs aren't just
elaborated in observational (aka design) research. They are elaborated
continuously in many fields of study. To be explicit, the parts of the world
which include deep analysis of people, environment, aesthetics, ie fields
such as medicine, psychology, finance, culture, and language (to name a few)
are mostly ignored by engineers. *This results in the fact that no
significant technology innovation occurs there.* MOST OF THE HUMAN WORLD IS
IGNORED by engineers; it's not just observational research that isn't
driving technology it goes far beyond that. How many physicians,
psychologists, economists, or linguists have a clue about software
engineering and can "think" technology? The result of this gap? While we
see a myriad of similar products vying for attention - like cell phones with
lots of "breakthrough technologies" (like mega-pixel video recording) - we
have almost nobody working on many of earth's most pressing and interesting
problems. Having worked in various tech companies I believer that major
shifts in focus will only come from polymath designers (and accompanying
scientists) willing to deep dive into the technology world. Don Norman,
call me when a computer can transcribe anyone's voice, or read a story with
human inflection, or analyze traffic flows and figure out how to improve
them, or analyze the DNA of someone and predict disease and MILLIONS of
other things....YOU IGNORED. MOST "radical problems", or "grand ideas" in
Norman's words, are never seen by the eyes of an engineer. We have a GAP of
WORLDS. It is impossible to believe that "they (the engineers) will get the
grand ideas running" as Don Norman suggests.

*The Reason for Status Quo - Technology Companies are Driven by
Technologists*

Don Norman's idea - technology first, human needs second - is nothing more
than a statement of the status quo. Anyone who works in technology knows
that most technology development is led by Chief Technology Officers and not
Chief Designers. The minds in this space are wired around technology first
and what it can do for people last. I'm reminded of Samsung ex-CEO Yun
saying that he realized that without a Chief Design Officer, the company
would never be able to have enough muscle to produce a flat-loading printer
which users preferred, to the top-loading printer preferred by engineers
because it was 10% cheaper to build and familiar. Flat-loading versus
top-loading was a struggle!?! That makes the mind boggle. How do you think
the engineering group would have reacted if CEO Yun had told them they
aren't building printers at all, but solving the paper records-digital
records divide? No op.

I've been the one to propose "radical" things like that and I can say the
majority of companies cannot entertain such shape-shifting ideas because it
takes individuals like the CTO beyond their expertise. It requires
different leadership, with different skills. "Radical problems" that are
people centric don't get focus because they require both deep domain
insights and design talent to "envision" potential solutions. Designers by
their consitution are strategically positioned to lead through these
difficult waters to profitable new worlds, but let's be honest here. How
many designers are in a position to actualize their vision? How many
control the means of production - the engineers - and are likely to get
their way or able initiate small skunk work investigations into new
open-ended technologies? Very, very few. And if they pitch their ideas and
fail, heads would roll. Whereas, costly "architectural refactoring", or
skunkworks projects led by the CTO are commonplace. However, these
engineer-led projects are usually not pushing the envelope into solving new
human problems but are technical investigations into substituting one
technology for a newer one (like changing programming languages or
platforms, a favorite of engineers) or making the architecture vaguely
"better." Rarely do heads roll over engineering projects led by engineers,
side-projects are seen as the cost of "keeping up" and there is little
management insight or accountability into these efforts. Sometimes
companies fail because they became so focused on their technology (versus
their users), at which point everyone moves on and the industry rewards them
for the experience they gained at their last outfit. A lot of the effort in
the tech industry is wasted effort.

What about corporate design teams you ask? If they exist, they are there
mostly to soften technology's rough edges for human use and provide
"lipstick" to boot. Let's not mistake these tweaks on existing technology,
with a potential world in which human needs are placed front and center in
envisioning what new technology must be created.

*A New World Focused on Human Needs First Is Possible*

Where Don Norman is in a blur - and I'm not sure how he got himself in it -
is in taking the 5 large successes of 100 years and saying "see that's the
way it's done! it's the technology that comes first! And the engineer
guides it!" Talk about drinking the koolaid! What would the world look like
if a new set of "grand ideas" was made the focus of technology, and the
synthesis skills of designers were brought to bear on problems of a
different sort? What if the problems were soft ones, or system-level ones,
or nuanced ones but even more lucrative ones? How do we get great designers
(who tend to be polymaths who can hone in on people's needs and consider
technological constraints) to work with scientists and economists and
psychologists and musicians to push technology driven by unmet human needs?
I admit that refocusing engineers and redirecting their efforts with design
and design research will not be easy, it is an immense cultural and
political challenge. But if I am right, when the money is tight more
projects will be led by designers because investors will be more selective
in what they sponsor. Projects with a well researched premise, and a proven
set of unmet human needs coupled with some innovative design vision will
drive what technology needs to get built. Designers will get more of the
"grand ideas running" in the future.

What a cruel joke it is that we go to Best Buy and see a gazillion similar
cell phones and scream "What a wonderful world! They did it!", but I can't
go to a bookstore and find something that will teach me a language (and
provide analysis and feedback on my speaking) or a music store and find
something that will teach me how to play guitar with all the subtleties that
might entail. As you move away from hard technology to almost everything
else you realize what a small swath of the world we are innovating in
because of a GAP of WORLDS. Don Norman you've fallen into that gap. You
are an important figure so crawl out and see the light!

Navid Sadikali
User Experience Designer

4 Jan 2010 - 10:28pm
Dave Malouf
2005

Despite having a strong opinion about Norman's piece (which people
might have gotten privy to on twitter) I've stayed out of this
debate, b/c as I read it more I realized that Norman is both right
and wrong, which in the end makes him wrong and that's what I'd
like to discuss.

Navid's piece is very articulate (if not a tad winded) and speaks to
a few of the issues, which I won't repeat, but what I did realize is
that Norman (and Dan Saffer's interpretation) are both right in so
far as historically speaking invention (and I'll correct Norman by
distinguishing invention over innovation) has been largely about a
Mt. Everest effect--I built it b/c of the challenge. These major
"breakthroughs" did not follow formalized research initiatives for
sure. Can't really argue that at all and this is where they are
right about their description of history.

Where they are wrong is in 3 areas. What was, should be what will be,
which I think is Navid's main point and further, that "needs" were
not understood by the invention. And 3 that design research is not
used to take inventions and make them into disruptive business
successes.

1st point re: what we need to be doing ...
In this world where it is obvious that the status quo has actually
all but destroyed both our economy and planet isn't it time to maybe
flip things on their head. Shouldn't corporatized invention maybe
take some guidance from human understanding brought about from
research instead of research trying to make good on the promise of
invention? Just sayin' "If it is broke, maybe you should change
it!"

But also it is important for us to realize that all invention
happened contextually and usually the best examples were done by
people who was acutely aware of latent (i.e. previously inarticulate
needs). Fire was not an invention, but the need to control fire led
people to figure out how to harness its power for warmth, security
and food preparation. The needs were understood before the technology
(control) was applied. The car was brought about b/c of an understood
need to change the way people transport themselves. We didn't need
"research" but the needs were definitely well understood. Roads in
Europe were directly created because of a need by Rome, and so and so
forth.

So my point is that Norman is correct in his analysis, but his
interpretation of his own analysis on future thinking is where I
disagree most.

-- dave

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=48144

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