A directory of resources inthe field of technical communication.


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Affect and Machine Design: Lessons for the Development of Autonomous Machines   (PDF)

Human beings have evolved a rich and sophisticated set of processes for engaging with the world in which cognition and affect play two different but equally crucial roles. Cognition interprets and makes sense of the world. Affect evaluates and judges, modulating the operating parameters of cognition and giving a warning about possible dangers. The study of how these two systems work together provides guidance for the design of complex autonomous systems that must deal with a variety of tasks in a dynamic, often unpredictable, and sometimes hazardous environment.

Norman, Donald A., A. Ortony and D.M. Russell. JND.org (2003). Design>Human Computer Interaction>Web Design


Affordance, Conventions and Design

Please don't confuse affordance with perceived affordances. Don't confuse affordances with conventions. Affordances reflect the possible relationships among actors and objects: they are properties of the world. Conventions, on the other hand, are arbitrary, artificial and learned. Once learned, they help us master the intricacies of daily life, whether they be conventions for courtesy, for writing style, or for operating a word processor. Designers can invent new real and perceived affordances, but they cannot so readily change established social conventions. Know the difference and exploit that knowledge. Skilled design makes use of all.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (1999). Design>Usability>Standards


Affordances and Design

The word 'affordance' was originally invented by the perceptual psychologist J. J. Gibson (1977, 1979) to refer to the actionable properties between the world and an actor (a person or animal). To Gibson, affordances are a relationship. They are a part of nature: they do not have to be visible, known, or desirable. Some affordances are yet to be discovered. Some are dangerous. I suspect that none of us know all the affordances of even everyday objects.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2002). Design>Usability


Affordances and Design

In the world of design, the term 'affordance' has taken on a life far beyond the original meaning. It might help if we return to the original definition. Let me try to clarify the definition of the term and its many uses.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2004). Design>Usability


Applying the Behavioral, Cognitive, and Social Sciences to Products

People trained in the Behavioral, Cognitive, and Social Sciences (BCSS) seldom play a critical role in the development of new products. Yeah, they do user testing and sometimes take part in the design, but seldom take part in specifying the product in the first place. Moreover, when economic times get tight, they are among the first to be let go. Why the failure? I place the blame squarely upon BCSS itself: students are badly prepared for the demands of a product-driven industry. Faculty are equally ill-prepared, and therefore unable to make a difference -- assuming they would even be interested in doing so.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2001). Design>Usability


Attractive Things Work Better   (PDF)

Until recently, emotion was an ill-explored part of human psychology. Some people thought it an evolutionary left-over from our animal origins. Most thought of emotions as a problem to be overcome by rational, logical thinking. And most of the research focused upon negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, and anger. Modern work has completely reversed this view.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2003). Design>User Interface>User Experience>Emotions


Being Analog

We humans are biological animals. We have evolved over millions of years to function well in the environment, to survive. We are analog devices following biological modes of operation. We are compliant, flexible, tolerant. Yet we people have constructed a world of machines that requires us to be rigid, fixed, intolerant. We have devised a technology that requires considerable care and attention, that demands it be treated on its own terms, not on ours. We live in a technology-centered world where the technology is not appropriate for people. No wonder we have such difficulties.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2002). Articles>Human Computer Interaction>Usability


Design as Communication   (peer-reviewed)

I was having a conversation with the designers, considering their suggestions, accepting some and rejecting others. The designers may not have been there to listen, but their statements clearly required an answer.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2004). Design>Usability


Design as Practiced

Design as practiced is considerably different from design as idealized in academic discussions of 'good design.' A few years ago, I made the transition from the university to industry--a deliberate decision on my part to practice what I had long been preaching, and to try to understand the constraints and pressures from the business point of view. How nice it would be, I thought, to be able to see products in the marketplace that reflected my design philosophy. This chapter recounts one stage of my learning process: issues that seem simple from the vantage point of academia are often extremely complex when seen from inside the industry. Indeed, the two sides seem hardly to be speaking the same language. In the course of my experiences, I have come to recognize that industry faces numerous problems that are outside of the scope of the traditional analyses of design. In particular, there are management and organizational issues, business concerns, and even corporate culture.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (1999). Design>Usability>Industry and Academy


DVD Menu Design: The Failures of Web Design Recreated Yet Again

Designers of DVDs have failed to profit from the lessons of previous media: Computer Software, Internet web pages, and even WAP phones. As a result, the DVD menu structure is getting more and more baroque, less and less usable, less pleasurable, less effective. It is time to take DVD design as seriously as we do web design. The field needs some discipline some attention to the User Experience, concern about accessibility for those with less than perfect sight and hearing, and some standardization of control and display formats.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2002). Design>Multimedia>Video>DVD


Emotion & Design: Attractive Things Work Better

Advances in our understanding of emotion and affect have implications for the science of design. Affect changes the operating parameters of cognition: positive affect enhances creative, breadth-first thinking whereas negative affect focuses cognition, enhancing depth-first processing and minimizing distractions. Therefore, it is essential that products designed for use under stress follow good human-centered design, for stress makes people less able to cope with difficulties and less flexible in their approach to problem solving. Positive affect makes people more tolerant of minor difficulties and more flexible and creative in finding solutions. Products designed for more relaxed, pleasant occasions can enhance their usability through pleasant, aesthetic design. Aesthetics matter: attractive things work better.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2002). Design>Web Design>Usability>Emotions


The Future of Education: Lessons Learned from Video Games and Museum Exhibits

Education is hot in business as well. The rise of corporate universities is well established, with companies literally spending billions of dollars to educate their employees. Education is now a business, with multiple companies offering courses and degrees as a successful, profit-making business. Of course, one of the problems when everyone is for something is that everyone has a different idea of what it is that they are for. Everyone who is for education seems to have a different idea of what to do, hence the challenge. The one thing everyone agrees upon is that our educational system is in trouble. Something has to be done to fix it. But what? To me, anything that is truly worthwhile is something that is also a major challenge. If you were facing an easy task, why bother? So it's a great year to be graduating, for anything truly worthwhile, anything that will make a difference, not just to you, but to many, is going to be hard. This is a great year, for there are great challenges ahead of you.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2001). Presentations>Education


Gratuitous Graphics and Human-Centered Website Design

Notice how frustrating most company websites are. Lots of pretty pictures that take forever to load. Hardly any information on a page. Notice how difficult it is to find the information you seek, and especially, how difficult it is to do comparison shopping. Don't companies realize that in today's world, the website is a great opportunity to practice customer-centered interaction -- make the customers happy and they will come back again and again? Frustrate them and, well, the competition is only a click away.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (1999). Design>Web Design>Graphic Design


How Might People Interact with Agents?

Agents occupy a strange place in the realm of technology, leading to much fear, fiction, and extravagant claims. The reasons for this are not hard to find: the concept of an 'agent,' especially when modified by the term 'intelligent,' brings forth images of human-like automatons, working without supervision on tasks thought to be for our benefit, but not necessarily to our liking. Probably all the major software manufacturers are exploring the use of intelligent agents. Myths, promises, and reality are all colliding. But the main difficulties I foresee are social, not technical: How will intelligent agents interact with people and perhaps more important, how might people think about agents?

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (1997). Articles>Usability>Interactive


Human Error and the Design of Computer Systems

People err. That is a fact of life. People are not precision machinery designed for accuracy. In fact, we humans are a different kind of device entirely. Creativity, adaptability, and flexibility are our strengths. Continual alertness and precision in action or memory are our weaknesses. We are amazingly error tolerant, even when physically damaged. We are extremely flexible, robust, and creative, superb at finding explanations and meanings from partial and noisy evidence. The same properties that lead to such robustness and creativity also produce errors. The natural tendency to interpret partial information -- although often our prime virtue -- can cause operators to misinterpret system behavior in such a plausible way that the misinterpretation can be difficult to discover.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (1999). Design>Human Computer Interaction>Usability


In Defense of Cheating

I am not in favor of deception, trickery, fraud, or swindle. What I wish to change are the curriculum and examination practices of our school systems that insist on unaided work, arbitrary learning of irrelevant and uninteresting facts. I'd like to move them toward an emphasis on understanding, on knowing how to get to an answer rather than knowing the answer, and on cooperation rather than isolation. Cheating that involves deceit is, of course wrong, but we should examine the school practices that lead to cheating: change the practices, and the deceit will naturally diminish.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2001). Articles>Education>Instructional Design>Testing


Interior Design Versus Product Design

From my outsider’s point of view, automobile interior design seems to be first and foremost about appearance, about style. Function matters, but it is not the primary focus, except for anomalies, such as when consumers force cupholders down the throats of reluctant designers or insist upon easy to fold rear seats for SUVs and the ilk. It feels as if dashboard designers see functions as irritants: so many controls and devices, so little room. How can we ever manage?

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2004). Articles>User Interface>Usability


Learning from the Success of Computer Games

I have long been struck by the power of the computer game to mesmerize, to hold the attention of otherwise restless children for hours and even days. I have watched otherwise unruly children focus, study, collaborate, and problem-solve. They read hint books, save checkpoints, the better to be able to try 'what-if' scenarios. They consult, the create. They solve. They do all the activities we wish them to do in pursuit of an education: What a shame that what is being learned is so trivial, so worthless. Now imagine a time when we transform education. When we can craft educational problems as cleverly as the game creators create theirs, allowing students to delve into the complexity of topics as deeply and as thoroughly as they delve into the games. Excite them to dive into the task, voluntarily working hard to learn the skills necessary to succeed. Only this time, the skills learned will be the ones necessary to be successful, well-educated citizens of society: mathematics, history, writing, science, art, and so on.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2000). Design>Usability>Interaction Design>Games


The Post Disciplinary Revolution: Industrial Design and Human Factors—Heal Yourselves

The fault lies with the separation of powers. There are four legs to product development. Four equal legs are required for good product design, all sitting on the foundation of the business case.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2000). Design>Human Computer Interaction>Usability


Technology and the Rise of the For-profit University

The traditional university is all things to all people, but it is primarily a place for professors to learn, to study, and yes, to teach. The teaching follows the traditional model of pouring knowledge into the heads of obedient students. This is a teacher-centered model of education, one that has repeatedly been shown to be inferior. Aristotle showed how learning can be an exploration. Pundits ever since have continually rediscovered active ways of engaging the mind. The university has resisted, for these other ways were not conducive to the comfortable life of a teacher. And anyway, it didn't feel like teaching. But today, education remains one of the last remaining labor-intensive activities, and it is pricing itself out of the marketplace. Worse, it does so using a methodology known to be deficient. Enter technology.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2002). Articles>Education>Technology


Usability Is Not a Luxury

The Web puts user experience of the site first, purchase and payment second. On the Web, people first experience the usability of a site and then buy something. Get a good experience, and the person is apt to turn into a frequent and loyal customer. But the web offers low switching costs: so, only if the site is extremely easy to use will anybody bother staying around. After all, there are eleven million other sites to go to on the Web.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2001). Design>Usability


We Are All Designers   (PDF)

We are all designers -- because we must be. We live our lives, encounter success and failure, sadness and joy. We structure own worlds to support ourselves throughout life.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org (2003). Design>User Interface>Usability


Why Doing User Observations First is Wrong

Field studies, user observations, contextual analyses, and all procedures which aim at determining true human needs are still just as important as ever – but they should all be done outside of the product process. This is the information needed to determine what product to build, which projects to fund. Do not insist on doing them after the project has been initiated. Then it is too late, then you are holding everyone back.

Norman, Donald A. JND.org. Articles>Usability>Testing>Contextual Inquiry

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