The Design of Future Things

I recently finished reading the latest trade book by the esteemed Don Norman, The Design of Future Things. In the book, Norman writes about the difficulties in designing future smart technologies and artifacts which can exist along a continuum from complete automation to semi-automation (i.e. human in-the-loop), to complete manual control. This gets at some core ideas of communication between humans and computers such as how (and if) the computer should attempt to infer intention (Norman argues against this), how important common ground is for shared understanding, and the issue of over-automation (people get lazy and / or can’t stay vigilant in monitoring if you do too much for them). Norman argues that the design difficulty lies in the transition toward full automation since keeping a human informed and attentive to the state of the machine is a real challenge.

All in all the book was a bit of a disappointment for someone who knowns something about HCI. There were a few interesting points in the books, but nothing earth shatteringly new, especially if you’ve read some of Norman’s other books. There was an interesting summary of design rules both from the viewpoint of a human designer and from the viewpoint of a machine interacting with people, which reinforces many of the principles that are espoused in the book.

Design Rules for Human Designers of Smart Machines

  1. Provide rich, complex, and natural signals
  2. Be predictable
  3. Provide good conceptual models
  4. Make the output understandable
  5. Provide continual awareness without annoyance
  6. Exploit natural mappings

Design Rules Developed by Machines to Improve their Interactions with People

  1. Keep things simple
  2. Give people a conceptual model
  3. Give reasons
  4. Make people think they are in control
  5. Continually reassure