Don Norman
Don Norman

Design, the discipline, is about the construction of interfaces that match the abilities and needs of people and technology in order to make products and services effective, understandable and pleasurable.

Design is also is about innovation, experimentation, about pushing the envelope of what can be done.

My book, The Design of Everyday Things, has lived a happy, 25-year life, getting people to look at the world differently, to view the world through the eyes of a designer, to understand why things work and why they don’t.  But 25 years is a long time for a book to remain relevant, and although the principles of interaction are unchanged in these 25 years, technology has dramatically changed. Hence, time to update the book, which has been done in the newly revised and expanded edition (published in November 2013).

So why not innovate? Allow the world to experience the delights of design?  Udacity is a great vehicle, for it too is exploring pushing the boundaries. MOOCs, or Massive Online, Open Courses are a relatively new phenomenon. They can attract tens or even hundreds of thousands of students in a class. But so far, they have been most successful in hard-core science and technology courses, places where there are correct and wrong answers. What about design, where although there are principles, design is still primarily guided by subjective measures. Although there are bad designs, wrong designs, and atrocious designs, there are no “best” designs, no unique design that is “correct.”  Design is a tradeoff among many factors, including the need to satisfy multiple people with one design (an impossible requirement), the huge variability in people’s needs, preferences, and styles of doing things. There are also technological and resource constraints. Some desirable things may not be possible with today’s technology or even if they are possible, they may exceed our skills, or cost too much, or take more time and people than are available.

How do we teach this in an online course?

This is our experiment. I teamed up with Kristian Simsarian, a former designer at IDEO and now head of the Interaction Design department at the California College of the Arts (CCA) in San Francisco, California. Chelsey Glasson, User Researcher at Udacity, assisted and provided much of the “tablet exercises” and quizzes that are the hallmark of Udacity courses. We are trying numerous experiments in this course, some of which will have the problems that all first releases suffer.

Student engagement is critical in design, where each of you can learn by critiquing and assessing the work of fellow students. (Critiquing does not mean criticizing: it means evaluating, understanding, commenting on the good features and the bad, where the aim is to increase everyone’s understanding and to make the work better.)  But there are no good computer tools for supporting the kinds of interaction we would like to see.  Even as I write this, in the first few days of the course, we see that many people are using the forums wonderfully well, while others are confused and puzzled, wondering why we are using this system.  I fall into both these camps.  I love many of the submissions (especially the answers to the Chinese Puzzle Pot), but I too have been confused.

Take the confusion as a learning exercise. Analyze the problems, suggest solutions. And let us know.

So enjoy, discuss. And someday we hope to have even more courses for you.

Don Norman
Silicon Valley, California