On ignoring the past

~ 31 August 2006 ~

Donald A. Norman, The Design of Everyday Things, preface:

Each time a new technology comes along, new designers make the same horrible mistakes as their predecessors. Technologists are not noted for learning from the errors of the past. They look forward, not behind, so they repeat the same problems over and over again.


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1   Chris ~ 31 August 2006 at 07:55 AM

This is an excellent quote. I agree with it on every level. It seems every time something new is released (for the web anyway) all design and user-interface rules go out the window.

2   Adam ~ 31 August 2006 at 08:58 AM

…and could you make the logo 3d, and have it rotate constantly? Also, how hard would it be to add background music?

3   JeremyS ~ 31 August 2006 at 08:58 AM

Thank you for sharing this quote.

My fear: the CSS 3 drop shadow will be as horribly misused as the blink tag. Shudder. Designers do… make the same mistakes… and repeat history.

4   Ross Johnson ~ 31 August 2006 at 10:24 AM

My fear: the CSS 3 drop shadow will be as horribly misused as the blink tag. Shudder. Designers do… make the same mistakes… and repeat history.[/quote]

I don’t doubt it at all - the simple “coolness” of simply being able to use it will be reason alone.

But I would argue that really even with out CSS3 technologies there are plenty of overused/misused design elements.

Stylized/Javscript title tags, litebox/lightbox, ajax, etc, etc, etc, etc

5   Marc ~ 31 August 2006 at 11:50 AM

Amen to that one. Cellphones anyone?

6   Cameron Moll ~ 31 August 2006 at 01:07 PM

Ha, I didn’t include the last line in that quote:

“…same problems over and over again. Wireless devices are appalling.

7   Quest ~ 31 August 2006 at 01:24 PM

The primary reason I believe designers repeat errors from the past has to do with a designer’s lack of self-discovery. Every good designer must discover what unique ability or abilities he or she has to offer to the design community. Unfortunately, many new designers are clamoring to imitate the existing list of industry experts and SMEs, which only perpetuates the erroneous repetition discussed in the quote. It takes a great deal of courage to step outside traditional strategies and processes to reach new levels in design. Each designer must dare to discover his or her purpose in design and boldly step into that purpose regardless of obstacles, popular opinions, or challenges that are faced along the way. Happy Designing!

8   Matt Williams ~ 31 August 2006 at 05:12 PM

The failure to learn from past experience is not new - David Ogilvy was talking about it in Ogilvy On Advertising back in 1983 - pages 19 to 21.

You can draw a parallel between advertising agencies back then and technology companies now - technologists are often paid in such a way that if they allow errors to enter their development and then solve them then they earn more wages and are kept in employment for longer. There is profit to be made from the unnecessary friction.

9   Ryan Romero ~ 01 September 2006 at 08:29 PM

Norman couldn’t say it any better. I find it ironic that you mentioned this quote. I just started reading this book this morning on the bus to work. And this quote was in the first chapter and defintly the one that stuck in my head.

I realize that Norman’s principals in this book are valuable lessons to all types design, even when applied even websites.


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