Review of Norman’s “Three Challenges for Design”
Faculty of Education, University of Wollongong, Australia
Norman, D. (2007). Three challenges for design. Retrieved 15/08/2008, from http://www.jnd.org/dn.mss/three_challenges_for.html
Norman has summarised the three main challenges for design, which are (1) ever-increasing complexity of everyday things, (2) ever-increasing burden of security, authentication, and identification, and (3) ever-increasing use of automation (Norman 2007). These issues’ focuses are on the different parts of human-computer interaction (i.e., users’ contexts, interfaces between users and machines, and the operation of programs).
In terms of complexity of everyday things, Norman used the example of the danger of automobile drivers’ mobile phone usage (Strayer, Drews et al. 2006) to explain the challenges for automobile dashboard design. He calls for better design to assist relatively unskilled drivers manage two or more tasks at the same time during driving. Even though without same time stress and safety concerns, as the users’ life has become full of complex stuff (e.g., various appliances’ menus, multiple choices, and microprocessors), designers should try effort to reduce complexity so that users’ mind will not be overloaded. Cognitive load theory (Sweller 1988; Sweller 1989) can further explain Norman’s (2007) concern in terms of complexity. The theory suggests that ineffective instruction occurs if learners or users unnecessarily are required to mentally integrate disparate sources of mutually referring information such as separate text and diagrams. Such split-source information may generate a heavy cognitive load. That is to say, people’s working memory is so limited that can not store and process too much information at the same time. Norman (2007) did not explore the challenge deep from the users’ perspective. Actually, such challenge is likely to be solved if users’ cognitive load is reduced. It has been recognised that cognitive load is a central consideration in the design of multimedia instruction (Mayer and Moreno 2003). Mayer & Moreno (2003) further provided nine ways to develop multimedia so that users’ cognitive load can be reduced, which included moving some essential processing from visual channel to auditory channel so that users’ attention on the two channels can be even, allowing time between successive bite-size segments, placing printed words near corresponding parts of graphics to reduce need for visual scanning, etc.
Regarding burden of security, authentication, and identification, Norman (2007) points out that the differences between the three phrases are usually not understood very well and more thorough security demands usually lead to less secure results because of inappropriate security procedures. As a result, the burden of security has decreased the degree of ease of use. However, Norman (2007) does not think this is a typical technical problem and he encourages using psychological and social approaches to deal with the challenge, but he has not provided further support to this point of view. Actually, multimedia security design’s goals can be categorised into content copyrights and content access rights management (Yu 2002). Traditional techniques such as cryptographic tools (Schneier 1996) would result in the security paradox that Norman (2007) described (the more thorough the demands of security, the less secure the result), because after decryption operation, there is no mechanism to protect against unwanted media access and duplication. Knowing this weakness may psychologically and socially increase our concern and burden of security. Therefore, we may want to use the digital watermarking technique to embed a discreet data stream imperceptibly into a digital medium data stream using steganographic (i.e., data hiding) principles (Barni and Bartolini 2004). This technique is believed to maximise the protection of both content copyrights and content access rights without adding burden to users (Yu, 2002).
As for automation, Norman (2007) does identify it as a challenge, but has not demonstrated any convincing evidence to support the argument. Although he points out that difficulties exist in automated domains and predicts that the next domain of automation, the relationship between automation and design is still unclear in his discussion. His main point about automation and design is that over-automation would increase stress and workload and change the type of error and accident. However, if the degree of automation of either design process or final products is controllable, the potential disadvantages of over-automation are not likely to be recognised as “challenge” because the designers can make their own decision. This is different from the former two much less controllable challenges. As multimedia designers need to “have a clear picture of what goes on whenever the user interacts with the program” (Vaughan 2004), the term “automation” in multimedia design process should be more like a part of user response planning. That is to say, designers should exactly predict what users will “automatically” response when they see and/or hear something. This prediction would form the basis of subsequent development of the multimedia products. On the other hand, focusing on the design process per se, “automatic authoring” can refer to either an advanced helper for creating new multimedia presentations or a mechanism to facilitate automatic creation of more useful multimedia documents from existing sources (Li and Drew 2004). Such automation is a great advantage for designers, especially for beginners. For example, text-to-speech tools (Dutoit 1997) can help designers automatically convert text to speech, which saves them from actual voice recording. This kind of automation is highly controllable. It is the designers who decide whether adopt this approach during their work.
At the end, Norman (2007) provided us with some suggestions in response to the challenges he identified. For example, he suggests giving people more choices they want and need to deal with the complexity issue, reducing unnecessary security procedure, and avoiding over-automation. Where this paper goes beyond these suggestions is that, (1) rather than purely giving users more choices, designers can learn from the results of cognitive load experiments and adjust the way they design to ensure the users’ mind will not be overloaded; (2) rather than reducing “unnecessary” security procedures, designers can incorporate new technologies to the authoring process so that the security approach in the production can influence the users to the minimum extent; and (3) the present paper demonstrates that “automation” is not likely to be a challenge for design.
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