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The Design of Everyday Things, from Udacity

There was a new course launched recently on Udacity called “Introduction to the Design of Everyday Things“. I am always on the lookout for design courses, and so how and why things are designed the way they are interests me. So of course I signed up for this, and went through it.

It’s been a while since I’ve been on the Udacity platform, and as I’ve said previously the UI is pretty good. The videos and quizzes are integrated together a bit better than Coursera. Instead of the video needing to play on top of the screen in a lightbox, it’s integrated into the page which allows you to see how far you are along in each module in real time. The quiz section also allows a variety of input such as bigger text fields, and they seem to take those quiz questions more seriously by giving you hints if you get an answer wrong with a prompt to retry.

The course itself was a bit of a disappointment. Perhaps I went into it with too high expectations. I thought it would be more of an examination of “everyday things” – looking at water bottles, chairs, street lights, and a close examination of real objects. I was expecting to learn about why this water bottle in front of me has ridges on it, and how the shape of the bottle fits the human hand better than a bottle of 10 years ago.

Perhaps the course was too short. Essentially the course is 3 modules, which is perhaps 1/3rd the length of a typical Coursera class. I didn’t come away from this class feeling like I learned very much.

Some people might find many of these positives: the course wasn’t long (3 modules), didn’t require a huge time investment, was fairly interactive (requiring lengthy posts to the forums for each week’s assignments), and wasn’t difficult. Also, the audio and video production quality was quite high. If you’re looking for something along those lines, this could be an interesting course.  If you were hoping for something with a bit more meat on it, this might not be the one for you.

Platform: Udacity | Price: Free | Enrollment: unknown

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  1. Thank you for taking the time and effort to take and review the course (Design of Everyday Things from Udacity). Alas, you based your criticisms on your (erroneous) expectations rather than on the course itself. As a result, the critiques you offer are not helpful.

    What I — as the course instructor and developer — want to know is whether it is well done: will people learn from it, while enjoying the experience. Instead, you told me that the course didn’t cover the topics you wanted it to, and that it was shorter than you wanted it to be. Well, those were both deliberate design decisions.

    I’m sorry the course wasn’t what you wanted, but that simply means you took it under false impressions. This is a course for people who want to understand design principles. it follows the material in my book, the Design of Everyday Things (revised edition). So your criticism of and disappointment with the course would also be a criticism of and disappointment with the book. There is a rule about criticism: you should critique what is offered, not what you wish would have been offered. I didn’t write the book you wanted to read. Sorry, but I write what I write. I do want to know how well I succeeded in what I intended to do.

    The course was deliberately short. Experience shows that people have great difficulty doing long courses: life intervenes. In a University, students are trapped: they have lots of pressure forcing them to complete a course once the first few weeks are over. People not in school, taking a course while also employed or busy with other activities, have much more difficulty. So we are deliberately doing DOET as four short courses. Each course is based upon two chapters of the book, plus design exercises (which are not in the book). If you want more meat, you will have to wait until more of the modules are completed, then review the entire package.

    So, please: how well was our intention done? I am aware of multiple shortcomings. For example, the Discussion Forum (which was a commercial package, used by Udacity just for this course), is quite poor. Students complained, properly. We are working hard to fix it. (It’s especially embarrassing for a design course to use a poorly designed tool.) This is the first course Udacity has done where student submissions and student discussions are an essential part of the course. As a result, we are all learning how to do this well.

    I seek constructive critique: Designs can always be improved upon. This course is no exception. You comments comments can help make course 2 better.

    Don Norman

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