Interview with Donald Norman: Design Skills in a Complex World

(Originally posted here, the blog of Manifesto Ibridi)

Donald Norman is an Electrical Engineering and Cognitive Psychologist. He’s co-founder and principal of the User Experience/Usability consulting firm, the Nielsen Norman group.

He’s an Hybrid Guru in the transdisciplinary fields of Usability, Interaction Design and User Experience Design with an amazing career.

We think that in the design of the last 20 years, as a profession, there are interesting emerging balances and combinations of competencies to front a more complex world. So we proposed to Norman for questions about the main skills of the future designers.

We asked him a few questions:

  1. What are the necessary skills for a designer to face the future challenges of a more complex world?
  2. Could the transdisciplinary attitude and skills of brilliant designers be a model useful to be adopted in other fields?
  3. Do you think that the future of user experience design will need a different level of competence on the several psychological and social layers of the users?
  4. Reading the Manifesto Ibridi, what is the most important concept that captured your attention since you are working in the same direction?

To which he answered:

“The skills of the traditional designer are not adequate to cope with the requirements of today’s world, especially not adequate for the new areas in which design is asked to play a role.

Traditional design education is still, well, tradition: craft based. The undergraduate education is all about craft skills and the professional graduate degree is simply more refinement of those skills.

Today the designer must know more about the world, about art and science, technology and engineering, social and behavioral sciences, political science and economics. Business. But very few designers receive the broad kind of education necessary to work on the problems that are so desperate in need of good design skills.

The problem is made worse by the fact that most academic disciplines are very narrow and abstract. Academics focus upon academic, deep knowledge. Designers work in the real world: they need to knowhow to apply the knowledge of the other disciplines, but the university is perhaps the worst place to learn the practical implication of the necessary other disciplines.

Although I think it is time for design education to change, I believe that the larger and more important problem is that it is necessary for all education to change. Instead of narrow, theoretical disciplines, we should have problem-based areas of focus, where theory and practice share the issues, where people with different backgrounds add their knowledge and experience. We need to reward practical applications, not just theoretical ones. we need to reward people with wide, generalist knowledge at the same level we know reward people with deep, narrow knowledge. Designers need the knowledge within the other disciplines: the other disciplines can use the unifying vision of great designers. But today, neither knows quite how to work with the other – the broad, generalist knowledge of the designer who wishes to build and accomplish things versus the deep, narrow knowledge of the academic scholar who wishes to understand things. Both are needed. We need a way to make them work well together, for each to respect the skills of the other.

Design has to move away from its base as a skill-based discipline. People who design services and communities need not have craft skills. But they are still designers. Different kinds of designers need very different skills.

Why do I support the Manifesto Ibridi: because it is making an argument quite compatible with the one I just wrote, to live and understand complexity, to deal with the rapid acceleration of knowledge and technology, to understand the interaction of humans and technology (cognition and artifacts) – except cognition must include emotion and action – the body as well as the mind.”

— Don Norman

(Image courtesy of John Knox)

A new Enterprise 2.0 approach: fundamentals and competences (1/4)

This is the first of a four post introduction to a new approach to the Enterprise 2.0 concept.

To start, I’m going to show you the basic concepts and the fundamental conditions you need to understand the specific variables, the levels and the competencies of a E2.0 project.

The specific points of view of my approach are two:

1. PSIxD: the integration of psychological and social levels in the cognitive artefacts
2. Hybrid: the transdisciplinary convergence of competences necessary to analyse and design in complex scenarios

– PSIxD is the acronim of Psychology applied to Interaction Design, a field I’m working on since several years ago, check for example the syntesis of the methodology I created with Davide Casali.

PSIxD is an important differentiation point from a big part of Enterprise 2.0 approaches that you can find around the world. It’s an expression of the changing of users and the co-evolution between human and cognitive artefacts. It’s a scientific and serious modality to analyse the impact of that darwinian natural selection of technologies, apps and practices that is the web and the mobile. We had seen to much speculations on Web 2.0. What are in synthesis the concepts you have to know?

  • the cognitive artefacts extend the cognitive processes
  • the social networks expand the social dynamics

So, in other words, the interaction is even more a virtual space, a middle ground where you can represent and manipulate mental, social and motivational dynamics of users. In an Enterprise 2.0 scenario PSIxD is a methodology of Persuasive Design that improves the probability to nudge the user to take or break several behaviours.

– Hybrid is the mix of competence, theories and tools you need to approach all levels present in Enterprise 2.0 project.
Too many models of Enterprise 2.0 are too limited on a few competences and points of view.

The competence have to be transdisciplinary because the object of consult and design is a complex system.

We have two principal objects, users and organization.

The user in a social network is on a continuum between a complex system and a psychological and social system.
In the first case the user is a node, expression of nonlinear dynamics of a complex net, in the second case the network is the expression of specific psychological and social caratteristics of the user. So, to analyse and design we need these competences:

  • Social Network Analysis
  • PSIxD (User Centered Design approach is implicit in IxD)

The organisation is on a similar continuum, so in one hand we have the organisation as complex, autopoietic system and in the other hand we have the organisation as a psychosocial group of persons. So as competences we need:

  • Management of complexity (Change Mangement from a complex system point of view)
  • Psychology of organisations

You can see in this image the hybrid competencies that are necessery to manage a Enterprise 2.0 project.

In the next post I’ll talk about the most frequentily mistakes in Enterprise 2.0.