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ucsd design lab don norman uc san diego

Don Norman

March 5, 2014 02:00PM

Rady: Mission Ventures Multipurpose – Room 2


What is Design?

Design is exciting precisely because it is so ill-defined. It is a practice and a profession more than an academic discipline. As a result, design is an uneasy fit within a research university.

I stumbled into design literally by accident: the accident at the Three-Mile Island nuclear power plant. I discovered that the accident resulted to a large extent because of poor design of the control panels and my training in engineering, psychology, and cognitive science was a perfect background to understand the design issues. Since then I have studied, taught, and written about design (my first book on the topic is entitled UCSD — User Centered System Design). I worked at Apple where designers taught me their trade. But even though I have visited many major design schools around the world (and have an honorary degree from one of them‹Delft), I still do not understand just what design is.
The lack of understanding is not mine alone. My design friends, professors at major design schools, are similarly confused. But the confusions create an opportunity to establish a new discipline involving the best of design¹s creativity, ingenuity, and special ways of attacking problems. Design is the practice of doing and of making, creating great products and services that fit human needs, that delight and inform. Design is exciting because it calls upon all areas of the university, from the arts and humanities, to the social sciences, science and engineering, and business. Design should be a wonderful fit within the university. How can this be done? Ah, that is the challenge.


Don Norman was founding Chair of the Cognitive Science Department at UCSD, and has subsequently been Vice President at Apple and Professor of Computer Science & Design at Northwestern. His books include User-Centered Design and The Design of Everyday Things, among many others. He has been for decades a leader and innovator in the field of design.

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