System Design & Management

Design guru Don Norman: Microsoft is beating Apple at design

“I really do think that Apple did lose its way and none of the comments have made me change my opinion whatsoever,” Don Norman, professor and director of the Design Lab at University of California, San Diego, leans back and tells me over our Google Hangouts session.

Norman, founder of the Nielsen Norman Group and author of The Design of Everyday Things, is referring to my first interview with him in August, where he criticised Apple’s design approach, saying Apple emphasises appearance at the expense of usability and has made its products harder to understand. It was a surprising yet refreshing statement, particularly when Apple is lauded all over the world for designing beautiful and supposedly intuitive products. Norman then praised Microsoft, saying the company is doing the “best job today in terms of usability”.

His comments reverberated across the design community and ordinary users, dividing opinions. Many rejoiced that Norman had finally given a voice to many usability problems they frustratingly encounter on a daily basis with Apple products. “Finally, someone who will publicly say that Apple doesn’t have the perfect UX!” one commentator wrote in delight.

But many still were flummoxed as to why Norman could say Microsoft could possibly be doing a better job than Apple. “To say Microsoft has better design than Apple is preposterous. Has Mr. Norman bumped his head?” another commentator fumed.

Since the interview, Norman, together with his long-time friend and partner in the Nielsen Norman group, Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini, published a more comprehensive account of how Apple has lost its grip on the fundamental principles of good design. Namely these are discoverability, feedback, and correction. Tognazzini was Apple’s first user interface designer and in the article he and Norman give specific examples of where Apple has gone wrong.

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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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