New Nexts

Alastair Somerville
2 min readFeb 18, 2021

A 6 minute talk for BA Fringe event on why Normal is a problem and why New Nexts are so important.

Normal as Bait and Switch

One issue raised in the talk is that Normal is often talked of as if it were a neutral mathematical concept. Simply how averages cluster.

However, that is not what Normal is now. Over the last 180 years it has been switched from being such a measurement to a target of a type of person. From describing the typical in a population to a default in any population.

This is why BroTech works. It uses datasets and data tools that privilege White Men.

Not just datasets

The second point there is important. In current AI and Machine Learning work there is a growing realisation that historic datasets have terrible biases (against women and against black people) that mean the systems becomes sexist and racist.

That point is true but it is not quite enough to describe the full problem.
Datasets are biased but so are the data analysis and design tools. This is the larger framing problem.

Many of the data analysis tools used now were developed in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century in research that was deliberately trying to prove the superiority of White Men. The tools are not neutral.

In design terms, there is also a momentum to building solutions that converge to the Normal. Both Design Sprints and Design Thinking do this as a way of making products and services quickly and practically.

This means the design tools are captured by the Bait And Switch Normal. Converging not to a typical in a population but a default of White Men.

New Nexts

More than anything, it is the need to cut away Normal that seems important now. Normal may well have a neutral mathematical sense but that is not what anyone receives now. It is the Normal of Default that we get.

New Nexts, rather than New Normals, is a way of talking of a diversity of divergent futures rather than a convergent future anchored to a poisonous past.

Go to PostNormal website for more information.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX