1 December 2010

Reflecting on the book “Living with Complexity” by Donald A. Norman

Be the first to share

Living with Complexity
I just finished reading Living with Complexity by Donald A. Norman (previously announced here) and consider an important contribution to our field, and this for three precise reasons.

First, Norman has a huge reputation, also outside of our professional UX sphere. His books are often the first (and sometimes the only ones) that managers, academics, policy makers and business people will read if they want to know something more about user experience. And he does an excellent job at living up to that reputation by making the difficult digestible and easy to grasp, understand and implement in daily practice.

During a recent trip to Korea, I was again reminded of how influential Norman is, and frankly said, we have an excellent spokesperson in him advocating our field to an extremely important non-UX audience (who often become our clients and interlocutors).

This book is his latest contribution in sharing our practice, as it explains how the often heard strive for simplicity is a mistaken ambition, and that designers – interaction and service designers in particular – need to concentrate instead on supporting people in managing the necessary complexities of daily life.

The second reason why I like Norman’s writing is that he sometimes manages to explain an idea with greater clarity than I have ever read before – and it that sense he can also teach us, UX professionals a lesson. Take this little story about how the field of interaction design came about and how it evolved (page 143-144):

“Most of my work has been with computer and telecommunication companies and with startup firms that make use of these technologies. These companies manufacture electronic products: computers, cameras, cell phones, navigation systems, and so on. In the early days of these new technologies, people had enormous difficulties understanding and using them. These were interactive devices, where an action by a person would lead to a change of state of the machine and then the requirement to do some new action. In many cases the person and the device had to engage in a form of conversation in order to set up the right parameters for the action that was to take place. As a result of the difficulties being faced, computer scientists, psychologists and other social scientists, and designers developed a new discipline, interaction design, to figure out the most appropriate ways of handling the interactions. As the technologies have evolved, and as the sophistication of the people using them has increased, the field of interaction design has had to deal with more and more advanced techniques and philosophies of interaction. From understanding and usability the field expanded to incorporate emotional factors, toward a focus on experience and enjoyment. Today, more and more products contain hidden, embedded microprocessors (computers) and communication chips. As a result, interaction design is now a major component of almost all design.”

Norman then goes on to define service design with the same clarity, which he considers – rightfully – to be “far more complex than product design.”

Finally, while the book can sometimes seem a little digressive, Norman does a great job in tying it all together in the final chapters, where he presents a series of cleverly structured design principles for managing complexity – to be used by design educators, design students, young professionals and senior designers alike – and a number crucial challenges that address the larger social, cultural and business ecosystem of our work.

Be the first to share
26 September 2016
[Book] The Stuff of Bits
The Stuff of Bits - An Essay on the Materialities of Information By Paul Dourish MIT Press, April 2017 264 pages The central topic of The Stuff of Bits is the materialities of information. This term often brings to …
25 September 2016
Three new reports on behavioural science applied to policy making
European Commission There is growing recognition that behavioural insights (BIs) – by shedding light on how people actually make choices – help deliver more effective policies and complement traditional forms of intervention. The Behavioural Insights Applied …
18 September 2016
[Book] The Cyber Effect
The Cyber Effect: A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist Explains How Human Behavior Changes Online Dr. Mary Aiken Spiegel & Grau, August 2016 400 pages A groundbreaking exploration of how cyberspace is changing the way we think, feel, and behave …
18 September 2016
Better decisions by design: applied behavioral science
Can we design a decision aid that gives us health information we need and counters our biases so that we end up more knowledgeable and confident in our preference? This is the challenge that …
5 September 2016
Great engine, but the fuel seems poor. Discussing insight development in corporate marketing
The September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains a lengthy essay, entitled Building an Insights Engine, on how Unilever has created the organizational capabilities to "transform data into insights about consumers’ motivations and …
4 September 2016
Cognitive bias cheat sheet
Cognitive biases are tendencies to think in certain ways that can lead to systematic deviations from a standard of rationality or good judgment. Buster Benson has tried to arrange the rather exhaustive lists of cognitive …
3 September 2016
[Paper] Design for behaviour change as a driver for sustainable innovation
Design for Behaviour Change as a Driver for Sustainable Innovation: Challenges and Opportunities for Implementation in the Private and Public Sectors Niedderer, K., Ludden, G., Clune, S. J., Lockton, D., Mackrill, J., Morris, A., Cain, R., …
24 August 2016
New Human Centred Design toolkit launched for African context
Future by Design, a Human Centred Design (HCD) and customer-centricity consultancy focused on the African continent, has produced an HCD Toolkit (download link) that’s especially appropriate for an African context, and intended for application where …

We are an international experience design consultancy helping companies and organisations to innovate their products, services and processes by putting people and their experiences first.

5 September 2016
Great engine, but the fuel seems poor. Discussing insight development in corporate marketing

The September issue of the Harvard Business Review (HBR) contains a lengthy essay, entitled Building an Insights Engine, on how Unilever has created the organizational capabilities to “transform data into insights about consumers’ motivations and to turn those insights into strategy.” The article was written by Frank van den Driest and Keith Weed of a […]

29 August 2016
Experientia discussing ethnography and patient-centricity at EPIC 2016

This week Experientia joins our colleagues and peers in Minneapolis at EPIC 2016, the premier international gathering on ethnography and design in industry. The theme for the conference this year is Pathmaking, emphasizing the power of ethnography to create transformative innovation, growth and strategic success for companies, industries and communities. On the second day of […]

22 June 2016
A united energy economy: Experientia helps wrap up the CITYOPT Nice pilot project

Can behavioral change address local energy issues, raise people’s awareness energy consumption issues, and directly support non-profit organizations at the same time? With the Nice pilot of the CITYOPT project, we have seen strong suggestions that it can. It also suggests that the sense of belonging to a local community is a strong motivation for […]

23 May 2016
Experientia white paper: “Conducting clinical trials is about working with patients”

Patient-centricity is one of the defining issues facing clinical trials in the pharma industry. The past few years have seen a growing awareness by pharmaceutical companies of the importance of patient-centricity – but they have also illustrated that not everyone is clear on just what patient-centricity is, or how to achieve it. After using UX […]

12 April 2016
The latest on innovation in Energy Efficient Buildings: annual round-up of EU Commission projects

Every year, the Energy-efficient Buildings (EeB) Public Private Partnership (PPP) publishes the EeB PPP project review – a round-up of energy-efficiency projects that have been co-funded by two European Commission schemes. This year, the print and digital booklet design was done by Experientia, in particular by our talented visual and interaction designer Dohun Jang. Experientia […]

8 March 2016
Behavioral modeling – Shaping cultural change and behavioral evolution

One of the things we do here at Experientia that really sets us apart from other UX agencies is behavioral modeling. Our cognitive and behavioral models go beyond the standard customer journeys and personas (both useful tools, and often preliminary steps to behavioral modeling) to create frameworks that can be used to make people more […]

See all articles