Former Apple VP: I wrote the book on user-friendly design and what I see today horrifies me

“As people grow older, their total life expectancy increases. So for those who are now 65, the average life expectancy is 83 for men and over 85 for women,” Don Norman writes for Fast Company. “And because I’m 83, I’m expected to live past 90 (but I’m aiming a lot higher than that). And these are averages, which means that perhaps half of us will live even longer.”

“Those of us who are still active and healthy at advanced ages–I qualify–discover that we aren’t quite as capable as our younger selves. That doesn’t mean that we aren’t healthy and workable – I still have a very active job and travel on business around the world, but I have to admit that I’m getting slower and weaker, with diminished eyesight, hearing, taste, touch, and, well, almost everything physical,” Norman writes. “The number of active, healthy oldsters is large – and increasing. We are not a niche market. And businesses should take note: We are good customers often with more free time and discretionary income than younger people.”

“Despite our increasing numbers the world seems to be designed against the elderly. Everyday household goods require knives and pliers to open. Containers with screw tops require more strength than my wife or I can muster,” Norman writes. “Companies insist on printing critical instructions in tiny fonts with very low contrast. Labels cannot be read without flashlights and magnifying lenses. And when companies do design things specifically for the elderly, they tend to be ugly devices that shout out to the world ‘I’m old and can’t function!’ We can do better.”

“Take the screen design for Apple’s phones. The designers at Apple apparently believe that text is ugly, so it should either be eliminated entirely or made as invisible as possible. Bruce Tognazzini and I, both former employees of Apple, wrote a long article on Apple’s usability sins ,which has been read by hundreds of thousands of people. Once Apple products could be used without ever reading a manual. Today, Apple’s products violate all the fundamental rules of design for understanding and usability, many of which Tognazzini and I had helped develop,” Norman writes. “These thoughtless, inappropriate designs are not limited to Apple.”

Read more in the full article – very highly recommendedhere.

MacDailyNews Take: The companies and designers who listen to what Don Norman is saying and design accordingly will prosper!

Please also read “How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name” by Don Norman and Bruce Tognazzini (Fast Company, November 10, 2015) here.

How Apple is giving design a bad name – November 11, 2015
Tog: Apple is still the king of design and innovation; they will again change everything, no doubt about that whatsoever – July 16, 2013
Tog: The iWatch will fill a gaping hole in the Apple ecosystem – February 7, 2013
Tog: Steve Jobs’ Mac formula keeps getting better and better – April 20, 2010
Tog: How to improve iPhone’s Springboard for power users – October 9, 2009
Tog: Apple’s iPhone will be a hit and why it’s so far ahead – June 28, 2007
Tognazzini: Glorious iPhone embodies the genius of Steve Jobs’ Apple – January 19, 2007


  1. This guy doesn’t even understand averages and mean.

    “And because I’m 83, I’m expected to live past 90 (but I’m aiming a lot higher than that). And these are averages, which means that perhaps half of us will live even longer.”

        1. I know what an average is and what a mean is. I know how they can be used to present data. Your weak attempt to make it seem I may not know what I am talking about failed.

        2. Really? Oh and always pretty pathetic to get all anal in order to ignore or right off the message. For most people what he says makes total sense both in use of ‘average’ and the message about declining attention to detail in design at Apple which used to be at the forefront of clear and logical usability. They are still good but have declined in that regard. But hey I suspect that much of the reason for that is because far too many within Apple are distracted by arguing over such momentous issues such as the relative meaning of ‘average’ and ‘mean’ like even more annoying Sheldons.

        3. Pedantically, both rare measures of central tendency, and “mean” is a logical subset of “average”, since mean only has a single definition, which is not tru of average (the latter’s definition can be construed to be the mean, the median, or the mode).

          Since this is a casual paper and not a treatise on mathematics, the literary use of the word “average” is perfectly fine.

        4. Just read the article and enjoy it. Why the heck does it even matter about an average? The man worked at Apple many many years ago. Enjoy the article. Why does everyone argue over something so lame?

          Maybe I’m getting old??

        5. John, since nobody has actually answered your question: “average” is an ambiguous term that can refer to any of three measures of central tendencies— mean, median, and mode. In a population that exhibits the normal distribution, a bell-shaped curve, all three have the same value. “Mean” is calculated by adding all the values together and then dividing by the number of values. That measure of average can be misleading when a relatively few very large values drag the mean to one side. “Median” is the 50% point, the one that has as many members of the population below as above, even though the sum of the values above the median may be much higher than the sum of the values below (as is the case with US individual income, for example). “Mode” is simply the most common value, the highest point on a bar chart, for example.

  2. “Designs that make it easier for elderly people often are of equal value for younger people. In fact, for everyone. Help the elderly, and the results will help many more, including yourself, someday.”

    Brilliant and THE core point of the insightful article — good design is good for EVERYONE.

    Back to Apple: “The designers at Apple apparently believe that text is ugly, so it should either be eliminated entirely or made as invisible as possible. Bruce Tognazzini and I, both former employees of Apple, wrote a long article on Apple’s usability sins, which has been read by hundreds of thousands of people.”

    Well read, indeed.

    Overall under Thin Tim and abstract design devotee Sir Jony, Apple is on a crash visual reducing diet starting with iOS7 that has more to do with visual anorexia than communication.

    Another epic Apple failure under Clueless Cook, sad…

  3. I said this the other day. There should be very few people in apple stores looking for help on how to use the hardware and software, but it is not, why? A former designer from apple tells you.
    The stores should be about selling product, service when broken, and, the oh did you know you can do this this way or you can this with that… not the basics. oh well what can you expect from a company that does not refresh its computers for years, and when it does it does so with i3’s and lame i5’s and tries to sell it to customers as if it brand new, latest greatest, faster, easy to use, … thinker with stuff that was working like magsafe, or the MacBook keyboard. good grief, that was what was in the pipeline.

    apple save the money we want faster, fastest, and what the hey.
    you know what is funny, iMovie use to be this really simple to use little program, now you have to look for tutorials on just how to bring something into the program and then it’s like, hmm, where is another youtube video.

    tim go hang out with the trump family, let’s have some new blood at the top.

    stop wasting money on buy back backs, that only helps warren. if you are trying to reduce the amount of money apple has in it’s pockets and you want to see the share price go up, start paying an 80% of profit dividend to shareholders. talk to your republican friends and get them to require no tax needs be collected from companies that pay out that percentage in dividend, including local tax and property tax. see, many of your workers are local and the are shareholders, local, and state will see their revenues raise, maybe.

    1. “should be very few people in apple stores looking for help… but it is not, why?”
      Because, the vast majority of people have difficulty even understanding how Facebook works. These folks would be challenged by a button on a webpage stating “YOU HAVE NO VIRUSES! Click here to install the very best, FREE!”

  4. The 1995 Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines book that I have on my reference shelf was, and should remain, a fundamental tenet of everything Apple has done since. Sadly, Apple no longer adheres to the basic principles that they used to.

    For example:

    Chapter 1, Consistency: “Consistency in the interface allows people to transfer their knowledge and skills from one application to any other. Use the standard elements of the Macintosh interface to ensure consistency within your application and to
    benefit from consistency across applications.” iOS, watchOS, TVOS all violate this dramatically.

    Chapter 1, WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) “Don’t hide features in your application by using abstract commands. People should be able to see what they need when they need it.”
    Both iOS and newer MacOS versions love to hide toolbars, offer sandwich menus with inconsistent contents, etc.

    Chapter 1, User Control “Allow the user, not the computer, to initiate and control actions. People learn best when they’re actively engaged. Too often, however, the computer acts and the user merely reacts within a limited set of options. In other instances, the computer “takes care” of the user, offering only those alternatives that are judged “good” for the user or that “protect” the user from having to make detailed decisions. This approach mistakenly puts the computer, not the user, in control.”
    iOS, subcriptionware, and iCloud are prime examples of the computer or the “cloud” controlling the user without any way for the user to know exactly what’s going on.

    There is so much more (cryptic dialog and feedback, legibility, compatibility, resources, keyboards, network transparency, menu behaviour, …) but of course online forums like this don’t work well for detailed discussion.

    I highly recommend that users, and Apple executives, dust off the old interface guidelines before Apple decided to Microsoftize everything. One of the primary reasons I am disappointed at Apple today is because they strayed massively from their own design and business principles. People should be talking about this and stopping the erosion of Apple’s formerly unique and superior quality standards.

    1. Mike, I wholeheartedly agree with your comments and those guidelines. I fully remember how I could go from one app to another to another and know what to do to accomplish what I wanted. I also watched in horror of the Windows world that each app required pages and pages of basic explanations to accomplish simple things the Mac can do.

      And . . . I began to notice three to four years into OSX, a closeness to the Windows format. New apps not adhering to good guidelines, then as much as I liked Jony’s computer designs, I disliked the user interface in that it was getting complicated with hidden control and inconsistent interfaces.

      I used to make instruction lists with sequential steps for my Windows user co-workers to perform basic writing outlines and printing; and now I have to do the same in OSX apps.

    2. I will wholeheartedly SECOND Mike’s insightful post. Apple without Jobs is awfully astray, inconsistent and no longer intuitive user friendly in many areas Mike pointed out… 👍🏻

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