Commentary on Don Norman lecturette

by New Idiom


“You can’t design for how you want people to act.”

Ripping off his fleece to reveal an ID shirt (John Maeda style), “Cantankerous visionary” (Business Week), Don Norman began his discussion about operations, design, services and whatever else came to his mind during the hour and a half he spoke with us on Wednesday.

For being a renowned behavioral scientist, professor and human-centered design consultant, he seemed more like that eccentric uncle at holidays, friendly, energetic and very passionate about his endeavors and life.

He began his discussion saying he likes to teach, think and talk about all sorts of things. Don stressed the importance of understanding the operations of a business or service as a designer. As John Campbell discusses in his blog entry, business calls it operations and design calls it service design. Business is focused on efficiency over effectiveness, but it is the designer’s role to improve the effectiveness and help businesses “design” their operations. Don mentions that operations and efficiency, two items on the top of a business’ list should not be the focus; rather the experience should be improved.

The front stage/back stage framework Don spoke of was a new concept to me. I have never thought of services or interactions in this manner before. One example Don spoke of was a bank. From the customer’s view, the front stage is the bank clerk, and the back stage is everything that happens behind the desk. There are also front and back stages within the back stage. Take for example a bank machine, the front stage is the interaction between the machine and the clerk and the back stage is what that machine produces. As Don points out few designers consider back stage operations, specifically from the employee’s point of view.

The idea of creating services that provide people with service or attention at the appropriate times was very interesting to me. Using the example of the DO NOT DISTURB signs in hotels, Don discussed that fact that sometimes people want service at their finger tips and other times they just want to be left alone. How as a designer can we design within those parameters? Finding the balance between too much and too little service is the answer. Easy, right?

I found Don Norman’s lecture entertaining and thought-provoking. The discussion format was relaxed and brought about some excellent questions and feedback from faculty and students. A fellow foundation student, Daniel Erwin felt Don clearly articulated “design is about finding the right questions to ask.” It is these kind of discussions that remind us why we are at ID. Its our turn to start finding the right questions to ask.

Also check out John Campbell’s blog entry on the lecturette:

Photo by Alexis Baum