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In addition to his current consulting work for leading tech companies and car manufacturers, Norman was vice president of the Advanced Technology Group at Apple, a company known for its ability to design well for the masses.
Norman took time from his busy schedule and book tour to give CNET News.com a piece of his mind when it comes to what designers and developers are doing right, what they're overlooking, and what consumers can expect in their tech futures.
Q: So, when do we get rid of the mouse?
Norman: Why is there a need to get rid of something if it works well?...The issue here actually is not so much the mouse, as any task that requires sustained periods of repetitive operations. The real question is how do we interact with our technologies? The keyboard is still the best means of entering text, and selection is still best done by pointing.
What's the potential for the
multitouch technology we're seeing from Apple and Microsoft?
Norman: The touch-sensitive screen is really great for some things, but not for everything. In graphic operations where you want to manipulate but also position on the screen and maybe rotate, and in applications where many people wish to do operations at the same time. (It could be) good for collaborative problem solving, (but it's) not a tool that will replace everything.
With desktop widgets, skinnable programs and Web 2.0 apps, software is deviating from one centrally mandated look and feel. Is this a problem for human-computer interaction?
Norman: What's important is how easy these systems are to learn, and as long as they use the same principles of operation there's no problem. I don't see that the Web 2.0 interfaces or multitouch technology offer any major deviation from what we're all used to. When done well, these systems are quite compatible, easy to learn, and add more joy and power to the interaction.
Much of today's shopping is done online where the consumer doesn't actually see a product first-hand. Many make purchasing decisions based on the amount of features crammed into one product. How do designers and manufacturers teach people to appreciate quality over quantity of features?
Norman: I have a friend in the business--I won't give you his name, but he works for one of the largest software companies--who complains that, as far as he can tell, it's a law that every year we add more features and more buttons and make it more complicated, and it's because the people insist on it...What we've learned to do is go look up the reviews and get both professional reviews and also user reviews. Don't you do that?
Absolutely. I mean, I work for CNET.
Norman: I've spent a lot of time on CNET Reviews, but part of the problem I discovered is that the reviewers aren't normal people; they're enthusiasts. I mean that's why they're a reviewer...I see this when I read the computer reviews, cell phone reviews, and so on. The people who write them are often experts on all the competing products and, therefore, tend to move us to feature-itus. These are very well-intentioned, intelligent people such as you. But you can't help but compare it with some other product you just recently experienced and say, "Well, this doesn't have that."
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