John Dalton: In your new book, Design for a Better World, you advocate for not just human-centered design, but humanity-centered design. Why?
Don Norman: Humanity-centered design is used to create solutions that benefit the good of humanity, which includes all people in the world, animals, plants, and the environment. We still must design for people, but we must also think about the secondary effects of those human-centered designs. We must look at the impact of what we're designing, not just on the profitability of the company, but instead the profitability of the world. The profitability of the world will be measured in different metrics, not in money. Design has always had the motive of ‘let's try to increase the sales and profits of the industry’. There's nothing the matter with that, a company must make a profit to stay in business, but not an obscene profit and not at the cost of degrading the entire environment and the way that we live. And so, there is a long history about the problems of design, and I think it's time to change.
John Dalton: As you say in your book, this is really about changing behaviors. And you note that part of that change requires taking a hard look at what we measure and how we use those metrics to shape behaviors. What are we getting wrong with metrics today?
Don Norman: The field of classical physics was very well suited to measuring things in the real world. And so, physicists devised all sorts of really good tools for measurement, and they were very successful in creating a field that was very valuable. There was a famous physicist, Lord Kelvin, who made that sort of the absolute statement: if you can’t measure it, you don’t understand it. But what people forget is that he was talking about measurement in the physical sciences only. Outside of the physical sciences there are things we can’t measure well, or measure at all. But we measure anyway, like using profitability or monetary value to gauge a company’s performance or a person’s wellbeing. That says nothing about whether a company is doing good things or bad things, or whether you’re happy. Economic indicators invariably involve counting money with no concern about whether it's good or bad. So, something's lacking there, what we must do is step back and look at the big picture. And that's why I call it humanity-centered design. I’m not against profitability; businesses must make money to survive. But there are many, many different examples of better ways of doing things. Many of which I put into this book.
John Dalton: As an FCAT researcher, I would be remiss if I didn’t ask you about society’s relationship with technology. What do you think needs to change there?
Don Norman: I'm a technologist, so I'm a fan of technology. I love technology, and that's why all my business has been involved in technology. But remember what technology is. It's basically anything created by humans. Our lives are better today than they have been in the history of the world. And so what I'm simply asking is not that we eliminate technology, but that we think hard about what we're doing. A lot of the evil that I talk about comes from the way we design in the Western world, a philosophy that I, myself, have followed and taught to students. But I now realize that it's not the right thing. For example, addiction -- we used to talk about how we can make a product more addictive so people would love it, right? Lots of things are considered good because it was good for the data, for the profitability of the company or the industry, but not for the world. And so we must change those things. A new relationship with technology means that we’re stepping back and questioning what we are doing and seeing if there's a better way.
Don Norman is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Cognitive Science and Psychology and founding director of the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego.
John Dalton is VP Research in FCAT, where he investigates socioeconomic trends and engages in in-depth studies focused on emerging interfaces (augmented reality, virtual reality, speech, gesture, and biometrics).