Monday, January 11, 2010

Drinks with The Don (Norman that is)

Friday evening at the Computer Electronics Show was an industrial design gathering in yet another loud, crowded bar in Vegas. With my colleague Kevin Shankweiler at my side, we staunchly entered the networking event. While standing in line for drinks, we had a celebrity sighting. I pointed out Donald (Don?) Norman among the crowd. (Kevin checked for a photo on the iPhone, it was indeed him). We saw an opening and went to talk with him, assuming we'd have mere seconds.

He spent 5-10 minutes talking with us, though I will put a disclaimer up front that it was incredibly hard to hear in the bar and I may have mis-heard everything. Not being one for a detailed memory, three things stick with me about this conversation.

1) Donald Norman is convinced that the computer mouse is great the way it is
2) He doesn't believe in the future of neural interfaces
3) Donald Norman is not a believer in dreaming and using far fetched ideas as a means to innovative design

#2 was a result of #1. Somehow we got on the topic of using a mouse and DN pointed out that it is perfectly accurate for pointing, does it's job well and needs no improvement. My stance was that I have terrible repetitive stress pain and it seems we need to get well beyond the "sitting at the screen" phase eventually. Talented researchers and designers continue to look at creating a better mouse.

I then laughed off the mouse conversation realizing that before long, we'll have neural interfaces or brain-computer interfaces, and it won't matter. He replied in a way as to infer that this would never happen and I was crazy. A very brief Google search shows almost 2 million hits for "neural interface computer." The world of prosthetics making the most impressive strides as we speak. Emotiv has devices open for development. And there is an entire conference devoted to the subject. (Ornery readers might point out that there is a conference or two devoted to Santa Claus too, but I digress).

#3 - Don't be a dreamer. Our conversation wandered to ideation and "Minority Report" type technologies which he correctly noted have been around for awhile, just not mainstream. I talked about pushing the envelope, thinking about the fantastic as a far off goal and then reigning it in for today's reality. Without such idealism, the Wright Brothers would never have gotten off the ground, Bell's telephones never would have happened and DaVinci would have been sitting around eating pasta instead of dreaming up fantastical machines that inform our progress to this day. These inventors believed there was a better way.

So, Mr. Norman, I thank you for your fine company and appreciate the chance to engage in lively conversation! But I do believe in dreaming, and literally building not just a better mousetrap, but a better mouse.

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