Thoughts on Richard Saul Wurman’s Why Design Now talk

Richard Saul Wurman, author of “Information Architects” and founder of the TED conference, spoke at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum‘s “Why Design Now” event. This is that talk.

Wurman emphasizes that so much is designed, even the questions that we ask. To illustrate, at one point he asked Bill Moggridge, who was attending as the new director of the Cooper-Hewitt, how old he is. Bill answered the question, and Wurman pointed out, “Now we all know your age, but you know nothing new.” His point is that the power is in the question, not the answer.

That is worth ruminating on. From a design perspective, coming up with good questions to understand a problem is often difficult. It takes dialogue and exploration and work before you get to the good questions. And then you begin to understand the problem better. Wurman also points out in this talk that organizations too often jump to action before they really understand the problem.

Wurman packs a lot, including some humor, into this short talk. It’s worth watching.

2 responses to “Thoughts on Richard Saul Wurman’s Why Design Now talk”

  1. Interesting and quick talk. Thanks for sharing.

    One thought on Wurman’s thoughts on the iPad and new modalities. He talks about (and I’m paraphrasing here) “flipping a page” on the iPad being unnecessary similar to flipping a page in an actual book. Essentially saying that because the iPad is not a book it should not behave exactly like a book. I’d like to hear more on this. Particularly his perspective on where new modalities meet gradual engagement. Shouldn’t we gradually engage users with new technology? Looking through the “gradual engagement lens” all level of users, from novice to expert, should have the ability to use the device. The page flipping may become a thing of the past in future iterations. But today, it seems this is a nice feature that engages multiple user groups and doesn’t inhibit the experience. In fact for some it may make the experience better.

  2. Hi Pete. I’m glad to hear your “gradual engagement” perspective on this. On the one hand, holding on to a prior convention or limitations of a prior medium can really hold us back or trick us into, as Wurman says, build a “better version of something that doesn’t work.” I personally feel this as there are some designed pieces we produce at work that I think we just need to start over on.

    But on the other hand your point seems valid too, right? Isn’t respecting conventions one of the lines of thinking in UX work? The basic concept of the value of a convention is that people don’t just use your unique website/product/interface. They’ve first used a thousand others before yours.

    Sometimes I try to think about that statement from the perspective of my 7 year old daughter. Because she picks up new technology pretty quickly, and they seem as native to her as flipping through a book. She isn’t as trapped, yet, in this power of convention as we as adults are. So the fundamental behavioral/ergonomic design aspects of interfaces may be less fettered by convention for her than for me.

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