Unedited running notes from an extremely entertaining Share panel featuring the festival’s guest curator Bruce Sterling, Donald Norman (author and Breed Senior Professor in Design in the School of Engineering at Northwestern University), Luca de Biase (Italian journalist) and Gino Bistagnino (Professor at Politecnico di Torino). You better hope the talk will be available in the Share video archive soon. Please use quotes with care as the debate was extremely lively and I might not have been able to capture the exact wording.
Bruce Sterling starts by reminding the audience of Donald Norman’s rules for establishing an effective interaction between humans and intelligent systems
Design Rule One: Provide rich, complex, and natural signals.
Design Rule Two: Be predictable.
Design Rule Three: Provide a good conceptual model.
Design Rule Four: Make the output understandable.
Design Rule Five: Provide continual awareness, without annoyance.
Design Rule Six: Exploit natural mappings to make interactions understandable and effective.
More on the 6 rules here
Bruce Sterling: what are properly designed objects?
Don Norman: If you don’t notice an object it means it is properly designed. We have 100 chairs in this room and nobody needed a manual, no chair needed to beep to be used. That’s what good design is about, it does not need anybody’s attention. Technology is new stuff that confuses us. And science fiction is fiction because it is the only context in which technology always works 😉
BS: what’s the nightmare scenario? What are non-properly designed objects?
It’s when the chairs wants to sit you! And then all chairs start fighting in the room.
LDB: what is the ethical responsibility of designers? Can you design a knife that does not kill so that nobody can say “I didn’t kill, it’s the knife!”?
It’s a bit presumptuous for designers to think that people care. You design a car, and people die driving it because they go too fast. But we all want faster cars. Designers are the wrong persons to ask a question about ethic to.
Gino Bistagnino: is there such a thing as an intelligent object?
We design intelligent objects because humans are too stupid for certain tasks. Intelligent cars need to exist because objects need to take over the task of driving to let more people live (in the US 6 million people are hurt by cars every year, 40’000 die). The problem we have now is that intelligent objects are only doing half of what they need to do. An espresso machine will take over the whole process, and in that sense it’s perfect. But today’s intelligent cars only go halfway, and therefore become even more dangerous.
BS: what is the toll of using complex systems, and especially all the preliminary steps you need to take to use a complex system?
DN: I’m against simplicity! Life is hard, life is complex. It’s like Bruce who can’t speak a sentence of less than 500 words!
LDB (who is a journalist): when we were using type machines to write, we were thinking much more before putting our thoughts on paper. Now we can edit things more easily we don’t think as much. Has technology and design changed our behavior?
BS: I’m against word processors. Microsoft word did not allow anybody to write a novel. And when you complain about clippy – the annoying “helper” who consistently interrupts you when you try to do something – the answer you get from Microsoft is “you should disable it”. Microsoft Word is like a world full of flying knives killing people, and the knives’ creator tells you “just disable them”.
DN: I wrote my book using Microsoft Word! Instead of complaining you should write your own word processor.
BS: one of my fellow science fiction authors decided to go back to writing with pen and paper. You tell me to design my own word processor, it’s like if you tell me to design my own fiat 500. It’s simply not one person’s work. Design critics are needed. I can complain and I will complain until my death!
DN: you will complain until your death because you don’t improve anything! I have had much more effects when I stopped criticizing and started doing things.
LDB: before we went on stage we decided we would fight because it would be more fun. Here is another fight: Apple vs Microsoft. Apple shows that design is also about stories, about distorting perception.
Donald Norman: Apple tries very hard to be as evil about Microsoft. People at Apple don’t care about their customers. They try to make money, put DRM in their music, or unchangeable batteries. The products are identically bad, they are both evil. But Steve Jobs does a good job of distorting reality and you don’t notice.
Bruce Sterling:Apple is like Albania: “think different and give us your money”. Microsoft is like USSR: “let’s make darkness the standard”.
Don Norman: One common mistake is to try to do a tool for everybody. To come back to the word processors, we need a different product for screenwriters. We need more specialized things.
Gino Bistagnino: It’s not that there are intelligent and stupid objects. I think it’s the user who does intelligent or stupid things with objects.