Don Norman Photo
Segal Seminar Series

Don Norman

April 19, 2011, 4:00 - 5:00 p.m.
Ford Motor Company Engineering Design Center
ITW (1.350)
2133 Sheridan Rd. Evanston , IL 60208

Living with Complexity


Our lives are too complicated, everyone agrees. Our technology is too complicated: everyone agrees. So why can’t our technology be simple?

Complicated is bad: it means something that is confusing. Complexity is good. Our lives and activities are complex, so our tools must match the activities.

People think they want simplicity, but they are wrong. When offered the choice between a very simple product and one with more features, they opt for the feature-laden one. We don't want simplicity, we want understanding. Complex things can be made understandable: that is the role of good design. One solution is modularity, which is why we have so many different kitchen utensils. Which is why owning a portable computer, a desktop computer, a smart phone, and a pad computer -- all of them -- makes sense for some people. Each is used for a different reason, in a different setting for different purposes.

Managing complexity is a partnership. Designers have to produce things that tame complexity. But we too have to do our part: we have to take the time to learn the structure and practice the skills. This is how we mastered reading and writing, driving a car, and playing sports, and this is how we can master our complex tools.

Complexity is good. Simplicity is misleading. The good life is complex, rich, and rewarding—but only if it is understandable, sensible, and meaningful.


Don Norman is the recently retired co-founder and co-director of the Segal Design Institute and former co-director of the MMM program, the dual-degree MBA + design and operations program of Kellogg and McCormick. He is cofounder of the Nielsen Norman Group, an IDEO fellow, a Trustee of IIT’s Institute of Design in Chicago, and former Vice President of Apple. He is professor emeritus at Northwestern University and the University of California, San Diego. He is Distinguished Visiting Professor at Korea’s Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). He was awarded the Benjamin Franklin medal in Computer and Cognitive Science, has honorary degrees from the University of Padua (Italy) and the Delft University of Technology (the Netherlands), is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He is the author of numerous books, including “The Design of Everyday Things,” “Emotional Design,” and “Living with Complexity.” He can be found at