Designing a Sustainable Future: Insights from Don Norman at Userhub Reunion 2023
Wahid bin Ahsan
Department of Human-centered Design
Userhub, Dhaka, Bangladesh
This report summarizes the discussion session featuring renowned design expert Don Norman and moderated by Wahid bin Ahsan during the Userhub Reunion 2023 event in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The dialogue focused on the evolving landscape of design and the responsibility of designers in creating a better world. Key topics included the circular economy, plastic waste reduction, noise pollution, sustainable agriculture, ethical design considerations for digital products, and the influence of AI on the design industry. Don Norman stressed the importance of a holistic approach that considers ecological systems and addresses the root causes of problems. The report provides valuable insights from the discussion and highlights the crucial role of designers in addressing global challenges, emphasizing the need for designers to adapt their roles to meet the demands of the future. A significant theme throughout the report is the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration in addressing complex sustainability issues.
Keywords: Design, Don Norman, Human-centered design, Sustainability, Circular economy, Plastic waste, Noise pollution, Sustainable agriculture, Digital products, AI, Bangladesh.
This report provides an overview of the discussion session with renowned design expert Don Norman, who joined the Userhub Reunion 2023 event online via Zoom on February 18th, 2023, in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The event celebrated 12 years of UX and human-centered design education in the country and brought together leading experts from the industry and academia to share their insights, experiences, and visions for the future of UX and human-centered design. This report offers background information on the event and Userhub, the organization behind it, as well as the esteemed speakers who contributed to its success. The discussion session with Don Norman focused on the importance of sustainability and the evolving landscape of design, providing valuable insights for designers and industry professionals.
Userhub is a Bangladesh-based organization that provides services and education in user experience, human-centered design and applied social research. They collaborate with educational institutions, professional associations, and industry experts to support the growth and development of professionals in Bangladesh’s user experience, human-centered design, and research fields. Userhub Reunion 2023 aimed to celebrate progress and achievements in UX and human-centered design education in Bangladesh over the past 12 years. The event featured discussion sessions, keynote presentations, experience sharing, and networking opportunities, enabling attendees to engage in meaningful conversations and explore new trends and developments in the design industry.
Featured Speaker: Don Norman
Don Norman, a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, is a renowned expert in human-centered design, psychology, and cognitive science. As the founding director emeritus of the Design Lab at UC San Diego, Norman has made significant contributions to the field of user experience. He has authored 21 books, including the widely acclaimed Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded (Norman, 2013) and the recently published Design for a Better World: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered (Norman, 2023). Norman has received numerous accolades and awards throughout his career.
The discussion session was moderated by Wahid bin Ahsan, Co-founder and Managing Director of Userhub Ltd. The session featured Don Norman, a distinguished professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, and a renowned design expert. The following topics were presented and discussed by the respective participants:
- Humanity-Centered Design and Sustainability (Don Norman, Wahid bin Ahsan): Don Norman emphasized the need for humanity-centered design, considering ecological systems and addressing problems’ root causes. He highlighted the environmental impact of current design practices, such as the linear economy, and suggested focusing on promoting a circular economy inspired by nature’s processes to minimize waste. Norman urged designers to consider a product’s entire lifecycle to reduce waste and negative environmental impacts.
- Alternatives to Plastic Waste Management (Don Norman, Danilson Placid): Participants discussed plastic waste management challenges and their detrimental environmental effects. The conversation stressed the importance of identifying eco-friendly plastic alternatives and highlighted government policies’ crucial role in regulating plastic use. Norman encouraged a progressive transition towards sustainable practices and called for cooperation among businesses, governments, and designers to bring about significant change. The discussion underscored the necessity for biodegradable options and adopting sustainable consumption habits.
- Reducing Vehicle Noise Pollution (Don Norman, Ikbal Mahmud): Participants discussed the harmful effects of noise pollution on health and well-being and explored ways in which designers can mitigate these negative effects. The conversation emphasized the need for a multidisciplinary approach to address this issue, combining education and awareness programs with production-level changes and design approaches that encourage more orderly and safer traffic.
- Sustainable Agriculture (Don Norman, Jaynal Abedin): The conversation touched on the challenges of promoting sustainable agriculture and organic farming practices. The participants emphasized the need to educate farmers about the benefits of organic farming and how to implement it effectively. Don Norman highlighted the importance of collaboration between businesses, government authorities, and farmers to achieve meaningful change.
- Ethical Design of Habit-Forming Digital Products (Don Norman, Shawon Karmaker Setu): The participants discussed the ethical challenges in designing habit-forming digital products and the potential harm of addiction to technology on individuals and society. Don Norman emphasized the importance of designers taking responsibility for the impact of their products on the environment and people, prioritizing the optimization of people’s lives over time and money. Suggested solutions included timers and mandatory breaks to promote healthier usage habits.
- AI Impact and Human-Machine Collaboration in Design (Don Norman, Khalid Hasan Zibon):
The participants acknowledged the potential for artificial intelligence to replace designers in the future and discussed ways in which designers can collaborate with machines to create better designs. Don Norman emphasized the importance of designers staying up-to-date with the latest technological developments in the industry and preparing themselves for the changing landscape.
Don Norman’s Advice
At the end of the discussion, Wahid bin Ahsan asked Don Norman for his advice and suggestions for the Userhub community. Don Norman emphasized the critical role of designers in shaping the world and their responsibility to consider the impact of their work on the environment and society. He urged designers to become agents of change, using their creativity to solve complex problems and create products that positively impact society.
The insights from Don Norman and other participants during the discussion session at the Userhub Reunion 2023 event point to several future implications in the design industry:
- Interdisciplinary Collaboration: The dialogue emphasized the need for a holistic approach to sustainability, suggesting interdisciplinary collaboration will become increasingly important. Designers, engineers, environmental scientists, policy-makers, and other stakeholders will need to work together to develop innovative solutions to complex global challenges.
- Evolving Design Education: The role of design education will continue to evolve, integrating sustainability principles and ethical considerations into curricula. This evolution will prepare future designers to tackle pressing global issues and create products and services with a positive impact on society and the environment.
- Advances in Sustainable Materials: As the demand for sustainable alternatives to plastic and other environmentally harmful materials grows, research into new materials and technologies will likely accelerate. This may lead to the development of innovative, eco-friendly materials that can be incorporated into the design process.
- AI and Human Collaboration: With the increasing influence of artificial intelligence on the design industry, designers will need to adapt their skills and learn to collaborate effectively with machines. This collaboration has the potential to enhance the design process, leading to the creation of more efficient, sustainable, and user-friendly products and services.
- Policy and Regulation: Governments worldwide may implement more stringent policies and regulations to promote sustainable design and reduce the negative impacts of products on the environment. This may include incentives for eco-friendly design, stricter waste management guidelines, and regulations governing the use of harmful materials.
- Consumer Awareness and Demand: As consumers become more aware of the environmental and social impacts of their consumption habits, the demand for sustainable products and services is likely to grow. Designers and businesses will need to respond to this demand by prioritizing sustainability in their design processes and offerings.
- Emergence of New Design Disciplines: As sustainability and ethical considerations become more central to design practice, new design disciplines may emerge, focusing on areas such as sustainable agriculture, circular economy, and environmental psychology. These disciplines will play a crucial role in addressing global challenges and shaping a more sustainable future.
The Userhub Reunion 2023 discussion session provided valuable insights into the evolving landscape of design and the increasing importance of sustainability in the industry. The discussion session with Don Norman highlighted the need for designers to adapt their roles to meet future demands, emphasizing the critical responsibility they hold in addressing global challenges by considering the entire lifecycle of products, adopting circular economy principles, and collaborating with governments and businesses, designers can significantly impact the creation of a better, more sustainable world. As AI continues to influence the design industry, designers must stay current with technological advancements and learn to work alongside machines to create innovative solutions. By embracing these changes and focusing on humanity-centered design, designers can help shape a more sustainable and ethical future for all.
We express our deepest gratitude to design expert Don Norman, distinguished professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, for his time and generosity in sharing his knowledge and expertise during the discussion session at the Userhub Reunion 2023 event. We sincerely appreciate Don Norman’s review of this report, invaluable feedback, and insights, enhancing our understanding of the critical topics discussed during the event.
We also want to thank Danilson Placid, Ikbal Mahmud, Jaynal Abedin, Shaown Karmaker Setu, and Khalid Hasan Zibon for their active participation and valuable contributions during the discussion session.
Special thanks go to Nilim Ahsan, Co-founder and Chairman of Userhub, for her leadership in organizing the Userhub Reunion 2023 event, and to our colleagues at Userhub for their support and encouragement throughout this project.
We also extend our thanks to all participants, speakers, supporters, and volunteers who contributed their time and expertise to the event. Their unwavering support and assistance were essential in establishing a productive and engaging forum for industry and academic experts to explore the dynamic world of design and the responsibility of designers in shaping a better world.
Norman, D. A. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition. New York: Basic Books.
Norman, D. A. (2023). Design for a Better World: Meaningful, Sustainable, Humanity Centered. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.