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June 17, 2006

Donald Norman sez: Maybe we're doing user observation all wrong

still image from Franklin Institute video of Don Norman

Human-based design pioneer Donald Norman has posted a provocative essay on his website about how we study the way people use the things we create. Norman and others have long proposed that we study our users in order to gain insight into how they could best use our product (be it a website, a kitchen appliance, or a weapons system) and then go ahead and build the product. Now he's not so sure:

Most projects are enhancements of already existing projects. Why do we have to start studying the users all over again? Haven’t we already learned a lot about them? Shouldn’t we be studying them all throughout the adoption period? Once a project starts, it is too late.

Norman talks about adopting the same type of iterative approach used in programming to HCI...an endless weaving together of design, observation, and manufacture. The full essay is here.

In other Donald Norman news, earlier this spring my old stmping grounds, The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, awarded Norman the 2006 Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer & Cognitive Science (press release). They made a nice little video (5:05, 17MB, mp4 format) talking about Norman's life and the influence of his work.

Posted by Chris Spurgeon at June 17, 2006 09:55 AM

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