Chapter 39. My Paper’s Affordances for Don Norman
Some kind words from Professor Don Norman, IDEO Fellow, and previously a Vice President of Apple.
From: PhD-Design – This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design [PHD-DESIGN@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of Don Norman [don@JND.ORG]
Sent: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 1:10 AM
Subject: On the meaning of things
Jude’s paper is fascinating for several reasons.
On Sun, Dec 29, 2013 at 7:54 PM, CHUA Soo Meng Jude (PLS) <
> I have a working paper that would have referenced Don’s piece had I come
> across it earlier.
> I’ll get a chance when reviewers tear it to shreds, and send it back to me.
> I focus quite a bit on the “design” of a camera (specifically its
> It’s interlaced with other stuff unrelated to design.
(The pdf of the paper is at
I had never heard of the field called Semio-ethics. The middle section of
the paper deals with how a camera acquires its meaning. I recommend it to
those of you who are willing to put the time and effort into reading a
paper from philosophy and semiotics.
I think the paper could have been stronger had the example of picture
taking been more modern. (Something else to think about during revisions,
Jude.) In this paper, Jude walks about with his Leica, range-finder camera
while taking street pictures. Yes, this is a legitimate examination of one
meaning of camera, in part through the design of the camera, in part
through its affordances (Jude’s word, I say with a smile on my face), and
in part through the resulting choice of photographs. But how much richer
the analysis could have been had it considered today’s cameras of choice:
the heavy, high-quality SLR where pictures are indeed consciously planned
versus the everyday cellphone camera where photos are taken quite
differently, or perhaps the body-mounted sports cameras that film
continuously as one hurtles down the ski slopes, or even as one wanders the
town. Or the ever-on recording by various technologists in the wearable
technology camp who want to document every minute of their lives.
All of these can be analyzed by what I take to be Jude’s core insight about
cameras and photography:
In photography done leisurely, our interest shifts quickly from the fact of something, to the value of, point of, the good of… that something. Thus, choices about what to put into the frames of the camera viewfinder, or into the film,what one decides to shoot and record, are all evaluative and ‘display’ what are important, good,and choiceworthy. But not just what one already thinks important, as it were. The very choosing, that exercise of panning about before available phenomena whilst knowing that all of that cannot be taken up and some discriminating selection is needed also alerts you to what should for you matter, if you have not thought so up to that point.
This, of course, is the old notion in art criticism (see Susan Sontag) that
photography does distort: the very choice of composition, of framing and
lighting, of shooting angles, and oftentimes the deliberate manipulation of
the objects to be photographed, constitutes a deliberate messaging of the
content. The resulting photograph does not tell you what happened: it
tells you what the photographer wants you to be told.
But consider what happens today in casual photography. Range-finder
cameras? What’s that? in modern photography, where cameras are on
continuously, the selection is often done after the fact (even true of
cellphone photography). We take hundreds of pictures, many of which we
never even look at, and then select one or a few and email them to friends
or perhaps post them on social networks. Sometimes the photos are
manipulated through distortion, deletion of people or objects, the adding
of people or objects, and other modifications with the aid of powerful
photo-editing tools. What is the meaning of those photographs?
And what of the newest cameras — the “light array capture” cameras, which
capture the light itself, and it is only afterwards, when back at home or
office, that the photographer deices what parts of the scene should be
framed, what should be in focus, and what angle it should be viewed from.
I find Jude’s analysis is easily extended to these new situations. But
what does it mean, then, to put the meaning in the camera or even the
intention of the designer. Here, the meaning of the camera is actually the
meaning of the resulting images or experiences, and that can be done
afterwards, without the camera even being visible.
So what does this do to our understanding of “the meaning of things”?
What does that mean for design? To me, it adds power to design. Rather
than giving our designs a fixed purpose or meaning, we design them with
great potential to extend far beyond our considerations, revealing uses and
meanings far beyond what we had anticipated. When that happens, I call the
result a great success.
When a paper raises deep issues for me that i had never considered before,
I call that a great, significant paper.
Thank you Jude.
Nielsen Norman Group, IDEO Fellow
firstname.lastname@example.org www.jnd.org http://www.core77.com/blog/columns/
Book: “Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded<http://amzn.to/ZOMyys>”
Course: Udacity On-Line course based on
From: CHUA Soo Meng Jude (PLS)
Sent: Monday, December 30, 2013 11:54 AM
To: PhD-Design – This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design
Subject: RE: Finally: The Norman & Verganti paper on Incremental and Radical Innovation is published.
Gosh I felt so much resonance with this paper.
I especially like the reference to Design’s etymological origins: to make sense of something (significantly).
I have a working paper that would have referenced Don’s piece had I come across it earlier.
I’ll get a chance when reviewers tear it to shreds, and send it back to me.
I focus quite a bit on the “design” of a camera (specifically its meaning/ontology)
It’s interlaced with other stuff unrelated to design.
From: PhD-Design – This list is for discussion of PhD studies and related research in Design [mailto:PHD-DESIGN@JISCMAIL.AC.UK] On Behalf Of Don Norman
Sent: Sunday, 29 December, 2013 9:21 AM
Subject: Finally: The Norman & Verganti paper on Incremental and Radical Innovation is published.
It only took three years! But I am pleased to announce that my paper with Roberto Verganti has finally been published.
Norman, D. A., & Verganti, R. (2014). Incremental and radical innovation:
Design research versus technology and meaning change. *Design Issues, 30*(1), 78-96. Link to entire paper as a PDF file<http://jnd.org/dn.mss/Norman%20%26%20Verganti.%20Design%20Research%20%26%20Innovation-18%20Mar%202012.pdf>