Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Why we disagree with Don Norman

Taking on Don Norman ...

"Don Norman, an author, professor, and partner at the Nielsen Norman Group, read the Wired article about us and wrote a piece asking, “Why is 37signals so arrogant?”

Hansson said: “I’m not designing… for other people.” I think that simple phrase speaks volumes. Thank goodness most companies recognize that this attitude is deadly.

If 37signals wants to follow this attitude, I think that is fine. I’m pleased that they are enjoying themselves and that their simple applications do indeed meet many people’s simple needs. But I would prefer someone who designed software for other people. If you want a hobby, fine, indulge yourself.

First off, let me say I respect Norman. His book The Design of Everyday Things is a classic. I’ve always admired him and think he’s spot on most of the time.

That said, I think he’s looking at this the wrong way. In fact, most of what he says about us in his piece misses the point.
Why we design for ourselves first

He argues that because we design for ourselves first, we’re selfish, arrogant, and have a disdain for customers.

That’s not true. Designing for ourselves first yields better initial results because it lets us design what we know. It lets us assess quality quickly and directly, instead of by proxy. And it lets us fall in love with our products and feel passionate about what we make. There’s simply no substitute for that.

We’re like chefs. We make food that we think tastes good and that we believe in. We make it for customers who have the same sensibilities that we do. It might not be for everyone. That’s ok. But for people who think the way we do, and appreciate the things we appreciate, it’s perfect.

And if enough customers tell us our food is too salty or too hot, we may adjust the salt and the heat. But if some customers tell us to add bananas to our lasagna, we’re not going to make them happy at the expense of ruining the dish for everyone else. That doesn’t make us selfish. We’re just looking out for the greater good.
We’re not the only ones

Apple agrees with this philosphy too. Here’s Steve Jobs’ perspective on “designing for you” :

We figure out what we want. And I think we’re pretty good at having the right discipline to think through whether a lot of other people are going to want it, too. That’s what we get paid to do. (complete interview)

We do exactly what Apple does. We figure out what we want and whether other people will want it too.

This method works because our problems are common problems. Solutions to our own problems are solutions to other people’s problems too. By building products we want to use, we’re also building products that millions of other small businesses want to use. Not all businesses, not all customers, not everyone, but a healthy, sustainable, growing, and profitable segment of the market."    (Continued via 37signals)    [Usability Resources]

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