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UC San Diego Aims To Become A Leader In Using Design To Solve Problems

Don Norman in an undated photo
Erik Jepsen
Don Norman in an undated photo

UC San Diego Aims To Become A Leader In Using Design To Solve Problems
UC San Diego Aims To Become A Leader In Using Design To Solve Problems GUEST: Don Norman, director, UC San Diego Design Lab

This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Products that can do wonderful things are no down good unless you can figure out how to use them. That's where the genius of good design comes into play. Leaders conducted a summit on design, with hopes of making our city a leader in "design thinking,". One of the featured guests was Don Norman, he's been teaching and writing on user centered design for more than 30 years. He's the author of the seminal book "The design of everyday things" he's the director of the UC San Diego does on lab -- design lab. How would you describe "design thinking,"? Making people think design is making things pretty, attractive, fun to use. That's true, but not always. What really design is is a way of thinking and approaching a problem. The world is filled with good problem solvers. Very few of them ever stop and say, is this the right problem? The first thing we do is make sure we are going to solve the correct problem, always -- almost always it's not it. It's a symptom. We have to delve deep and find what's called the root cause, the real issue. When you design you have to design for people so we need to understand people, we watch them, we don't ask them what they want or what they like we watch what they do. Quite often they say they do and what they actually do, what they say they need and what they need our different things. What's an example of something we use every day, that you think is designed really well? What I think is designed really well? How about the modern kitchen faucet. I really like it. Would you like about it? It took a while, there's basically 19 -- one knob, it controls how hot or cold the water is and how much is coming out. In the old days, there was a hot water and a cold water control. I wanted to control the war, I had hot and cold, that was also the control for how much. It's nice to have one control, the second is, they now have these, we used to have a hose on the side that you could pull out and spray. It never worked right. Now, the same faucet you just pull it out push a button and it sprays. It's surprising how long it took for us to get here. Can you give us an idea of something we might admire and think as you say, looks pretty, but is designed poorly? Let me count the ways. The stocks on the auto steering wheel. Remembering which one does what and every car is different. Your stove, it has four burners and you have six controls in a straight line. No wonder they have to label them, different manufacturers do it differently. Any combination, some stove will have, no wonder we turn on or off the wrong burner at times. This quest, the way of thinking about design, came after you describe it as a comma Eureka moment. A little bit about my background, I started as an electrical engineer, I have a bachelors degree from MIT. Then I went and got a Masters in electrical engineering. I ended up getting a PhD in psychology. My first job was teaching at Harvard, then I came to UC San Diego, a really long time ago, 1966. I was in the psychology department and for years I just -- studied memory retention and how the brain works. I was called in when three-mile Island accident happened. To understand why the operators made mistakes. After the committee I was on, study it, we said, if you want to design something to cause mistakes you could not have done a better job. That made me realize, my training in engineering and psychology was perfect to understand how did design technology that people could use. Your expertise was used by Apple, in the mid-90's and then the tech company change the way they approached design in the past 20 years. How do you see that changing? When we were at Apple, we designed guidelines for designing things that could understand and use. We were proud that the Apple Macintosh, you didn't need a manual. You just got it and in a few minutes, you could figure it out and always see what the possibilities work, we call that discoverability. You could discover what you could do. It's only intuitive, in the sense that it's easy to pick up, because we worked really hard to do that. I ended up being vice president of the Advanced Technology group, trying to look for the development in the future and now, decades later, Apple has caught the protagonists -- prettiness bug. Now, the iPhone or the iPad, can you figure out whether you should Chaput once or twice, do you swipe upper left or along swipe or shorts why, there is no way of knowing. Everybody has their tricks that they discover, you discover it because no one tells you what is possible. You are now the director of the UC San Diego design lab. What are some examples of the kinds of projects that you are working on? There are many design schools in the world. We decided we didn't need another design school, we needed to apply the design approach, "design thinking," making things for people like healthcare, transportation, autonomous driving, that's what we decided to focus on. Most of our work is an education, autonomous vehicles and in healthcare. Autonomous vehicles, the automatic cars, you might think we are into technology, but were not. I want to cross the street and here, couple of cars with no drivers. How do I know they've seen me? How do I know I can cross? What if I want to wave at them? How does it do that? How do I know it's waving me on and not the people to my right is this way of looking at problems, looking at how things are design, is this catching on? Are not the only guy? No. Thinks it's interesting how few people practice will are calling human centric design. That means we're designing it for the people. People really understand the technical components don't understand how people use it. This phase I'm doing right now one of the reasons is that this configuration is no around for 20 or 30 years and over the years people learn what has to be done. I have three buttons in front of me, one is labeled cough. The normal person wouldn't think of putting that button. People do cough. It messes things up. I've been doing talk radio. In the early days there was a cough button. It wasn't there when you need it it -- needed it. It's having a mindset. I've been speaking with Don Norman, director of the UC San Diego design lab. Thank you very much. You are quite welcome. Be sure to watch KPBS evening edition at 5 and 6:30 tonight. Join us again tomorrow, for KPBS Midday Edition . If you do ever miss a show, check out the midday edition podcast at. If you do ever miss a show, check out the midday edition I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.

UC San Diego scientist Don Norman is trying to turn the region into a hub for "design thinking." That’s the concept of making things that are intuitive to use, even if they’re not flashy or sleek.

Norman founded UCSD’s Department of Cognitive Science before leaving in the early 1990s to apply design thinking at Apple. He also worked at Hewlett-Packard before returning to academia.


He returned to UCSD in 2014 to lead its Design Lab, which is aimed at training college and graduate students, along with industry leaders, in his methods.

“We’re going to work on complex problems, not designing products or services,” Norman said. “We don’t teach problem solving, we teach problem finding. We teach people to watch and find where others have problems in their lives.”

Norman’s lab recently hosted a design summit to connect designers with companies that might benefit from their work. He pointed to Inuit, the makers of TurboTax software, as one of the few local companies that understands design thinking.

Norman joins KPBS Midday Edition Monday with more on how he’s applying design thinking to things such as health care and self-driving cars.