An academic discovers the realities of design

Donald Norman, Apple Computer

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University December 2, 1994


We are indeed in the midst of a most interesting technological revolution, one which joins communication, computation, and entertainment. Things are moving rapidly, and in another century, the way we live our lives will have been transformed rather dramatically, perhaps equivalent to the past one hundred years in which my parents, for example, started in a world where horses were the main transportation, the telephone was not in widespread use, and people rarely traveled more than a few miles from their homes during their entire lives.

Today, in HCI courses around the world, we worry about the details of today's technology. We have lofty theories, lofty ideas. But what is the relationship between the ideals of the world of academics and of design and the world of industry? Hmm. Why do you think there should be any relationship?

The world of industry is driven by the business model: what sells. Indeed, my current standard talk to conferences is entitled: "Trends in the Computer Industry: Life-Long Subscriptions, Magical Cures, and the Search for Profits Along the Information Highway"

So in this talk, let me tread a dangerous walk along the boundary between hope and despair. One the one hand, I will argue that artifacts of technology can indeed make us smart, that we are in the midst of most interesting times. On the other hand, I will also argue that those in power are primarily driven by their perception of the marketplace, that if we are not careful, hollywood standards will dominate the information industry -- low standards in culture, low standards in content, high standards in glitter, and a price for everything.

Is there a positive side to this? yes. But it will require consierable change, including reorganizing how companies develop product. The theory of HCI is the easy part: restructuring the industry so that our dreams can actually occur is the hard part.


Donald A. Norman is an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer and Professor Emeritus at the University of California, San Diego where he was founding chair of the department of Cognitive Science. He was one of the founders of the Cognitive Science Society and has been chair of the society and editor of its journal, Cognitive Science. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

"The technological problems today," says Norman, "are sociological and organizational as much as technical. In this new age of portable, powerful, fully-communicating tools, it is ever more important to develop a humane technology, one that takes into account the needs and capabilities of people." Norman is the author of the book "The Design of Everyday Things." His most recent books are "Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles" and "Things That Make Us Smart." All three books are now available on a Voyager CD-ROM - Defending human attributes in the age of the machine - complete with video talks, demonstrations, collected papers, and even examinations.


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