Grand Designs

Don Norman returns to apply human-centered design thinking to the critical problems of society

“Make it important. Make it exciting.” That’s what Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla told Don Norman when he “un-retired” to return to UC San Diego and start the Design Lab.

The 79-year-old Norman developed the lab inside UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute. The Design Lab launched last year as an interdisciplinary, university- wide endeavor dedicated to “human-centered design thinking” applying the science and practice of design to the complex social-technical system problems confronting us, whether it be health, transportation, or the environment. One focus is the role of automation, putting the focus upon human-technology teamwork.

“Design is not about making something look pretty. It’s about making the world work better,” Norman told the U-T San Diego in a recent interview.

The new Design Lab fits into Chancellor Khosla’s strategic plan to establish new areas of excellence in cutting-edge disciplines such as robotics, neuroscience, energy and engineering.

Norman, one of Business Week’s 27 most influential designers in the world, is founding chair of the cognitive science department at UC San Diego, a former chair of psychology and a former vice president at Apple. A leader in the application of human- centered design, Norman is also cofounder of an executive consulting firm that helps companies create better experiences. His many books include Emotional Design, Living with Complexity and, most recently, an expanded and revised edition of the highly influential Design of Everyday Things.

Norman leads the Design Lab at UC San Diego with co-directors Jim Hollan and Scott Klemmer, both of whom hold appointments in cognitive science and computer science and engineering at UC San Diego. The lab’s research participants and faculty advisory board represent cross-sections of campus, including the Rady School of Management, the Jacobs School of Engineering, and the divisions of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences. Since launching, the Design Lab has been successfully helping to build a design community in San Diego, Norman says, and reaching out to prospective partners. Fellows have been recruited, projects undertaken, and plans include course offerings to start in fall 2015.

Norman intends the lab to drive innovation — both incremental and radical. His aim is no less than to “attack the critical problems in society.” Stay tuned.