Technology first, needs last: What was Donald Norman thinking?

Steve Jobs while introducing the iPad in San F...

Inventor or innovator?

Donald Norman just posted another piece in his annals on pragmatic design.  Act first, do the research later implores designers not to waste time on prescribed research before the designing starts.  This is the latest missive in the assault on ‘proper design methods’ he kicked off in late 2009 with Technology first, needs last which raised a blogospheric frisson when published. Norman’s central premise in that piece was that innovation breakthroughs result from technology developments and are independent of user need. In simple terms, the technology juggernaut rolls on and innovation occurs at the nexus of technological capability and pre-existing user need at a particular time and place. Norman consistently broadsides at some sacred cows including ethnographic design research (discovering previously un-articulated user needs) and user needs as a primary innovation driver. Just as Nicholas Carr declared that ‘IT didn’t matter’ in 2003, Norman declared that user needs don’t matter in 2009. This is roughly equivalent to telling a software development conference that requirements don’t matter.

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