Don Norman is the “Don” of interaction design, having written several of the most influential books and spoken, consulted, and led design research at companies such as Apple and HP. The progression of his interests and insights over the years has led the path of HCI and interaction design. Every few years he has turned the field’s attention in new directions, leading to new understanding and new practical potentials. To oversimplify, as we must for someone as productive and wide-ranging, he has shepherded in and written key books on a series of perspective shifts:
Cognition as an empirical science in Memory and Attention: An introduction to human information processing (John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1969). This and several other books went along with his cofounding of the first Department of Cognitive Science and the Cognitive Science Society.
Usability in The Design of Everyday Things, (Doubleday 1988). This book led to much of the current HCI research agenda, along with the cognitive agenda and a long relationship with Jakob Nielsen in usability consulting.
Emotion and affect in Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things (Basic Books, 2003). Having led the study of people as “cognitive processors,” Don shifted attention to the role that emotions play in our interactions with everyday objects.
Business in The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail (The MIT Press, 1998). After his experiences at Apple and HP, his attention was directed to all the things that make the difference between successful and unsuccessful products, beyond their user design.
So at this point, what can we expect next from Don? The seemingly unlikely context is that his current project is to develop a new teaching program at Northwestern University: a “design track” in the Master of Manufacturing and Management program (MMM). The new program is a joint enterprise between the Kellogg School of Business and the McCormick Engineering School (http:// mmm.northwestern.edu).
But why manufacturing?
Don’s insight is that manufacturing has more to do with interaction design than you would think. The connection goes through “operations”:
The essence of successful manufacturing is not a matter of the physical products, but of the operational processes that a company can put into place to create an effective flow of information, materials, and labor. Big manufacturing innovations come from new ways of thinking about supply chains. From his engineering training, Don says it’s really all about queues and buffers.
The essence of successful interactive products is not just the interaction an end user has with the product, but with the whole range of operations that make that interaction work. The poster child example is the iPod, which does have excellent usability design but would not be successful without the whole chain that provides for music access. In some sense, the success of the iPod is the success of iTunes, which in turn is not a program but a service.
No product or service is successful without a front end and a back end, but design as now practiced usually concentrates on the front end rather than the operations-centric design of the back end. Don’s vision for the future of interaction design is to extend our reach from improving the design of the product in hand to designing the larger ecosystemthe service infrastructure that makes the product really work. He believes that the confluence of operations and design has great power. He wants interaction designers to move beyond being critics of devices to being innovators in the value chaincontributing solutions, not just finding problems. Interaction designers need to be able to frame their contributions in terms of the bottom lines that will motivate companies to move their designs into real use.
So it’s not so surprising that his current collaboration is with a business school (Don codirects the program with business professor Sudhakar Deshmukh). The new program is a design track within the two-year master’s degree MMM program. Students will receive both an MBA and a master’s in engineering management, but they won’t become designers! That is another key insight that drives this program, as well as its companion program in the engineering school (a one-year master’s degree in engineering design and innovation). To get design into effective practice, you need to train designers and also to teach the people they work with how to understand, incorporate, and foster design. The programs aim to train businesspeople and engineers to work with designers, not to turn them into one-year design wonders. This philosophy is also at the heart of new programs around the world, such as the Stanford d.school, which talks about creating “T-shaped people.” Such people maintain the depth and focus of a single discipline while adding a “crossbar” of design thinking that drives the integration of multiple perspectives into solving real problems.
The interdisciplinary commitment of MMM is deepnot just a combination of perspectives in the courses, but a focus on how to make that combination work in organizations. The goal is to foster design thinking in the managers and engineers who will work with designersa goal that will produce the people who IDEO CEO Tim Brown says are critical to the design-driven organization. There needs to be an interplay between the HCI point of view (the end users looking into the system from their outside vantage point) and the operations point of view (the structure and functioning of the whole system, from the inside). Design will require optimizing from multiple points of view.
The Northwestern University design program as a whole is intended to complement existing HCI and design programs (of which there are several in the Chicago area) and to put greater focus on a business perspective than interdisciplinary programs that grew out of product design, such as Stanford’s d.school. It is philosophically aligned with programs such as the joint MBA and design program at the Institute of Design, the master of engineering management at Cornell, and the curriculum in “integrative thinking” at the Rotman School in Toronto. But MMM’s focus on the design of operations is unique.
The structure of the program is still evolving, but the basic outlines are clear. Students in the MMM design track will take courses along with other MBA students in the three basic components of businessfinance, marketing, and operationsand will do an industry internship. The design track will add new courses on the operations side, taught by both the regular faculty and consulting faculty with experience in design, such as Karen Holtzblatt of InContext and Larry Keeley from Doblin Design. Students in the engineering design and innovation program (codirected by Ed Colgate) will join the MMM designers in this series of courses, which includes an integrative project course in which a small group works with a company on a real design problem.
Of course, this will all change as they try it out. Don admits that he really doesn’t know yet what he will be doing. As he said, “I never understand what I’m working on while I’m working on it. When I do, I write a book and move on.” At this point the book isn’t yet written; this review of the program is prospective. Don is well aware of the problems that lie ahead in turning a good idea into effective action. This program is one of many experiments in design teaching going on around the world, and a few years from now we’ll all read the books and help write the next chapter in interaction design.
About the Author
Terry Winograd’s focus is on human-computer interaction design, with a focus on the theoretical background and conceptual models. He directs the teaching programs and HCI research in the Stanford Human-Computer Interaction Group. He is also a founding faculty member of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford (the “d.school”). Winograd was also a founding member and past president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. He is on a number of journal editorial boards, including Human Computer Interaction, ACM Transactions on Computer Human Interaction, and Informatica, and is the author of many books.
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