Friday, January 27, 2006

Dinner with Don

It is every usability specialist's dream: A meeting with Donald Norman. I've been lucky to have had three:
  1. The first one was at CHI'97 when Steven Pemberton, then chair of CHI and advisor of the company that I worked for, introduced me to mister Norman. My heart stopped for a short while and I don't think I said anything meaningful.
  2. Then after CHI'2000 in The Hague when we both spoke at a post-CHI conference on Internet Usability; he was shaking his head on the front row while I was talking about forms that showed error messages to users (bad forms!). However, I had grown confident enough to correct Donald on an aspect of his presentation when I saw him in the toilets afterwards.
  3. And most recently in Delft, where he was scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate from the local university (see below), I arranged a dinner with the SIGCHI.NL board of which I am an informal advisor.Me wiping food off my hands as Don unpacks his 3D Escher ball Don's local guide, Pieter Jan Stappers, confirmed that he would be available on Wednesday, January 11, so we made reservations for 12 (the board, advisors, Don and local guests) and had a lovely dinner and great wines. As soon as it became clear that there wasn't really a formal agenda and that the board was just curious how Don was doing and what was on his mind, some lively debates started. We spoke about in-car interactive systems a lot, about domotica, about the troubles of flying 2000 miles every week, and about the outrageous amounts of money that some companies are willing to pay to have Don talk to them for a day or two. Reinder, one of the SIGCHI.NL board members, bought Don a nice gift: a wooden 3D Escher ball. The last I heard from Don was that it was sitting on his fireplace.

I wasn't able to attend the doctorate award ceremony, but it has been recorded by the university and made available through the College-rama service. To skip to the relevant part, select the link "View: The 164th Dies Natalis", hit the "Slides" tab at the bottom-left of the resulting pop-up, and select slide 79 for a 7-minute tribute to Don!


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