domingo, 5 de enero de 2014

Assignment 1. Book review.

“The Design of Everyday Things,” by Donald Norman is an introductory book on user centred design. It is predictive and primes on basic terminology and transferable concepts that are as valid today as they were when the book was written. The fact that it is more than two decades old does not reduce its value. Through a diversity of examples, Norman explains concepts and terminology on the field such as affordances, conventions, visibility, conceptual models, mapping, usability, user centred design, the seven stages of action, etc. Many are other substantial contributions of this book to the discipline. Instead of mentioning/repeating the most obvious it could be more useful to stress on the less noticed arguments and the underlying implications of his posture. It was salient the fact that he invites more reflection in the development of products in a way that resembles strategic planning for conflict prevention and management where needs and interest are fundamental components of any strategy. Norman urges to think about these as well from the preface when he urges designers to study people and take their “needs and interests” into account. In the design field, akin to any other if considering conflict a difficulty or a contradiction, the relevance of dialog is fundamental. A dialog is established through feedback and analysis with the participation of a diversity of approaches. Seen this way, it could be considered the interdisciplinariety and “project management of a design.” No process can be absent of elements different from the functional, psychology, multiculturalism, economics, public administration, engineering, and even the laws are connected to the way objects are conceived, manufactured and commercialized, just to mention a few areas. When thinking of the book in connection to the last assignment we had, it leaves the impression that design is all that matters, because everything is concerned with the creation, development and materialization of objects. Living in a world that requires the material for survival, designing these artefacts is a matter of life support. Paying attention to creations at the strategic level would also result in better design, also being responsive to people´s needs and interests can smooth the transition to a life predominantly mediated by artefacts that is the digital living, and the internet of things, phenomena that Norman could also predict on his work while mentioning the upcoming advent of intelligent home appliances. The connections to make are unavoidable and fundamental, not a matter of choice of luck, such as the doors, or the light switches at home. It is an imperative to focus on the linkage/relationship between subjects and objects. At the same time, making it all exceedingly “easy” for people, could also lead to the trivialization of human effort and its importance for human development. In short, we must remain the subjects that control objects instead of disempowering people from the capacity of analysing, learning, figuring processes out. I would never trade off my ability to find a way and understand my location for the comforts of using GPS technology. To give up such a basic human skill is beyond my comprehension, much more so that some teach their kids how to use devices for geolocation instead of how to read simple signs on the street level, the natural indications such as the position of the sun, or just a paper map. Hence, this book made me worry about the way objects also change people´s potential, capacity, and mind. In a very short section of the book, “Don’t take away control,” in page 197, the author suggests similarly, but not strongly enough, if to consider that the whole book inclines the other way.

It would be reductionist to state a central argument to the book other than the previous, because it would encompass all of the specific advice Normal suggest. The users’ needs are to be satisfied, and hence they should be consulted; aesthetics are important but they can be a consequence of conscious and effective design. This was a very fast read, simple and direct with conceptual value accessible to everyone. This is a positive feature as it also demystifies design, inducing the idea that designing and engineering is all about trade-offs, not fantastic and futuristic creativity as some might imagine. On the other hand, and despite the fact that the author is a cognitive scientists, the text lightens the content when discussing cognition, as I extended on during the module report on the matter, to conclude with the following: Why Norman states that memory is knowledge on the head when memory can be faulty and mistaken? Is it not simply information stored? Knowledge thus, is a term he could have avoided considering how much philosophy has dealt with it already. It seems that scholars have more or less done the same things in their confined territories, focusing on their own fields, instead of integrating entirely compatible observations to create a full view of the big picture on Human potential. Norman could have expanded this topic connecting it with Activity Theory, according to his proposal to work across disciplines, integrating expertise. It is likely that the author purposefully resorted to simplify the language and used a colloquial style, at the expense of academic precision, but it does not diminish the value of this work that popularized the notion of responsible design. This has turned into a reference text for everyone involved in the task of research and development of products, in the field of innovation and even on the impact of regulations on designing and engineering, with the economic policy of states revolving around or seriously affected by its innovation system rules and the way it supports research and development. It is a very clear book filled with real life examples that everyone can relate to. Innovation studies have widely discussed the impact of technology on institutions and society; it could be interesting to learn if the connections were made by academics in the field of design and engineering on other works, books and articles. Norman very briefly adds a section on design and society (p.209) that indicates his recognition on the institutional changes that follow the dissemination of a given technology.
User´s experiences can be simplified and favoured when the process of design concentrates in making tasks efficient and outcomes effective; The author summarizes his proposals into 7 principles that also wrap up the substance of the book and can serve as concluding remarks to his theory: Consider what he calls knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head, make task structure more efficient, bridge the gulfs of evaluation and execution so usability becomes more visible, map tasks correctly, affordances are not the only measures of potential, because constrains have the same power when utilized intelligently, consider mistakes, and resort to standardization when nothing else is possible.

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