Tales of UX in childhood:
As soon as I shared a childhood episode with Don over lunch, he immediately called out his colleague and asked me to repeat what I said, with a confused face I thought I said something unsuitable, nevertheless I repeated and said “One day when I came back from school, my mom asked me “What did you learn in school today? I was wondering how do I explain to her the Solar System in Hindi today? And in a way which is digestible to her? Hailing from a village, my mother had never been to school but she was always curious to learn. That was probably my first step towards simplifying ideas into bits of chewable information for the right target audience.
Don Norman and I share an immense passion for education, as we believe that is one important aspect is shaping the future of this world and after hearing my story he quoted “We need curiosity in our education system, a learning form which can never be replaced”
Who is Don Norman?
Recently I had the opportunity to host world famous Donald Norman – a cognitive scientist who joined the team at Apple in the early 90s as their User Experience Architect – making him the first person to have UX in his job title. He came up with the term “user experience design” as a way of encompassing all that UX is. By this time Don had also written his classic book, “The Design of Everyday Things,” which championed design for usability and functionality rather than aesthetics. it remains hugely influential for designers today. At the heart of his approach is human and activity-centered design, combining knowledge of cognitive science, engineering, and business with the design.
Hosting Don Norman in India
Ispirt works to transform India into a hub for new generation software products, by addressing crucial government policy, creating market catalysts and grow the maturity of product entrepreneurs.
The conversations started with the living legend with an exclusive closed-door meeting at 7.ai situated in the Silicon Valley of India, Bangalore where various solutions/products were discussed to get his unbiased feedback.
Public Speech by Don Norman had for over a hundred designers, developers and product folks. I remember before the talk Don asked me a peculiar question, “Shaheena; should I use a presentation?” and I said yes sure. But then an entire conversation went around why presentations are needed or why they are not. Well, eventually I was of the opinion how about experimenting and not using one? Well to my surprise he did not use one.
During lunch and coffee, we shared stories and spoke about cultural behaviours from an Indian perspective and hearing his insights too. As we walked to meet the press and waited at the elevator area he looked at me and said “how does one know which elevator to call and how to do these buttons function” and we had a sneered at each other like we knew what we were referring too.
A complex problem does not have a simple solution: The Talk of the Legend
Don started off by imploring designers to ask a question to themselves, what is the problem that they would want to work on? Healthcare? Education?
A complex problem does not have a simple solution, it is solved bit by bit because in the process of helping some people it might harm some other people. Hence it is important to test the solutions on a smaller set of people and then learn from that and iterate and keep iterating. We learn from testing and its important that we tell ourselves that we have not been proven wrong if we fail but we have learnt a lot more than what we knew before. This term was fondly called “Muddling Through” because as per Don, Experts do not always understand cultural nuances, behavioural biases and deeply hidden insecurities of the people the solution is eventually built for.
He is a strong advocate of “Community Driven Knowledge” i.e Citizen-Based Knowledge Systems, this is the most sustainable form of design solutions because they are conceived by the people for the people.
This is the role of a designer to get people together for a common cause.
Understand the Problem Deeply:
A designer is someone who designs something that has an impact on society. A solution that is aimed at technology first is a good recipe for failure, we will never to able to start by finding technology solution. What we must do is understand the problem deeply.
A designer must understand which discipline is necessary for designing a solution. They must know a bit about every aspect of the ancillary problems associated with the core problems. It’s important to know about the other fields that he is exposed to as opposed to just blinker focus on your core area. We must not simply design solutions, they must be accepted by the society that’s the goal of every solution. A human mind understands the cause and effect of the actions he will be doing. Hence it’s easier to build for behaviours of people as opposed to changing the behaviour because behavioural change eventually happens on its own. Human mind understands the cause and effect relationship, hence give them a problem they care about that’s when they learn and change. Build something first quickly, and give people to try also called “Research Through Design” is the way by which you learn much faster. Ending the session with autographs on his books, it was now time for the press.
Ending the day discussing some social projects that affect the medical and education sector of the country, it was amazing to share the table and discuss hypothesis, assumptions and biases with Don.
Advice to Designers: Be curious
The 82-year-old Don Norman is anything but an old, he is curious and would always like to be that way. He tries anything that is different. Humble and asks tonnes of questions.
An Autograph as unique as the man himself