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Don Norman Decries Design That’s Hostile to Older Users

Design guru and former Apple VP Don Norman, who’s best known for the influential book The Design of Everyday Things from 1990, has penned an editorial at Fast Company decrying the state of design, particularly as it impacts older people. Norman, now 83, points out some of the mistakes made by designers seemingly unaware of the physical limitations imposed by age and calls for thoughtful, inclusive design that helps everyone. He doles out criticism across many fields but reserves particularly cutting words for his former employer, noting, “Apple’s products violate all the fundamental rules of design for understanding and usability.”

What’s your favorite example of design that fails miserably for older users?

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Comments About Don Norman Decries Design That’s Hostile to Older Users

Notable Replies

  1. This is a GREAT article. Please read it…

    I’m at an age equal or greater than the Author (Don Norman). AND I have many issues like his with Apple products

    One he didn’t mention (that isn’t in the user-friendly design area) is Apple designers presumption that everyone has ~ 1 GBPS download Internet access. I have several friends that live away from the Fiber Optic downtown. Apple seems to have no understanding (or concern) about how their products are so difficult for these people

    Very personal but iDevices drive me crazy Other than searching out YouTube videos ((or attending NMUG’s weekly meetings) I don’t think there is an easy path for knowing how to ‘touch’ the touch screen. And don’t get me starting on the organization of Settings. When I want to observe ART I go to a museum; when I drive my car I want the pedals to be in the same place they were last week!


  2. Yeah, the settings are maddening, aren’t they? That’s why I wrote this, not that Apple has listened. :frowning:

  3. On a Mac system preferences at least offers all on one screen and a search by need

    I really dread the day that iOS finishes the takeover over of macOS


  4. Yes! And that it’s always on.

    And it’s not just Apple. Sometimes when I do not have internet access, Excel can take up to a minute to start up—or to quit!

    That did make me laugh out loud, which did not detract from its veracity.

  5. The most ubiquitous design problem, especially on phones, is gray fonts. Why can’t all text be black and easily readable? “Reader view is available” isn’t always available.
    What is so stylish about hard to read text?

  6. as a former apple employee there are too many items not designed for me (age over 80) that I can’t begin to list them. The automated testing is HORRIBLE. Automation doesn’t make mistakes, users do!. Half the time I get taken to somewhere I didn’t want to be, SIRI I almost useless, about 1/4 of the time I have to input y passcode instead of my fingerprint, etc etc
    I am seriously considering departing the apple stuff as it causes me more and more pain

  7. But is the “other stuff” – Windows, Android, etc – any better in terms of usability?

  8. Probably not. But it’s getting better. Meanwhile Apple’s usability is getting worse. Add to that mix that Apple’s stuff is a whole lot more expensive and many people will start considering their options to leave.

    Of course there is privacy, incidentally the almost only argument made against Android these days.

  9. I couldn’t agree more. For black text on a white background, anything other than black text reduces contrast and thereby reduces readability.

  10. Oh geez! Grey text on black, what fun! Thanks Adobe for making my life more difficult.


  11. I agree about white background/black text, and I greatly appreciate the way True Tone adjusts the white point on my iPhone. The difference is very noticeable between my iPhone and elderly iPad and MacBook Pro. Since there are a rather infinite number of Android phones, I don’t know if there is an equivalent and who’s on first with it. Knowing who is on first is a problem with any Android device because each manufacturer has the ability to mess with the OS to its liking. An LG Android is different than a Samsung, etc., etc.

    Whether it’s because I’ve been having a longtime love affair with Macs or not, I find Windows to be a cludgy, clunky, usability disaster. AFIK, there’s no equivalent of Time Machine. Setting up a backup disk is torture, so baking up if you’re not on a network. Searching is the equivalent of getting waterboarded, and there are no multiple tabs in the Preview equivalent. There is no equivalent to Mission Control that I know of, and I use this all the time. Updating apps is a PITA, and deleting apps is about as easy as chopping off your head. Syncing and managing photos is a nightmare. You don’t have to jump through hoops to save as a PDF.

    Windows typography drives me nuts; kerning and tracking have improved slightly over the past decades, but they are only slightly less abysmal. I forget the names of the new Windows default web fonts, but they stink almost as bad as Times New Roman, and if I remember correctly, Arial and Comic Sans are still among them. Droid Sans and Droid Serif aren’t any better. And since Microsoft can’t assume everyone has a screen equivalent to a Retina Display, or even one that comes a little bit close, you’ll find more thicks and thins in display fonts.

    IMHO, I think Macs clobber the competition in usability any day.

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