Normality was a glitch

Alastair Somerville
3 min readFeb 27, 2018

I’m doing a quick talk at UX Crunch in London tonight. The event is about UX and Psychology. I’m going to talk about bring human centered design from UX into Psychology. That may seem odd but Psychology (and Social Psychology in particular) has serious problems with its attitude to individuals.

I’m using a few references to 80’s movies in tonight’s talk.

This one from Raiders Of The Lost Ark probably sums up my fears.

Norms, Normative and Normality are like the rolling stone at the start of that movie. You think you’re doing OK, avoided all the traps and suddenly it’s crashing towards you. You think you’re being human-centered but the pressure to collect data and analyse it for ease of understanding leads to a really bad journey.


This all starts with data. Data is good. Data of user behaviour is really good.


The beginnings of the trap is the average.

The Norm is the rock that Indiana Jones isn’t aware of.

Compiling all that data into a more compact form. Taking all that scattering of data points and so often making a bell curve.

This is where things start going wrong. You’ve defined an average. You’ve created a centre. At the same time, you’ve created edges.


As with discussions of algorithms, there’s easy arguments to say there is no bias in maths or code. Which is true but humans are using those maths and code and they do have biases.

The average is not in itself bad.

But it has a creaking pressure to judgement.

That rock above Indiana Jones…just straining to be released.

Norms have a sense of direction that aren’t inherent to them but are to all the people around them.

People want to use them to be Normative. To not merely say this is the average behaviour but this is the standard behaviour. Not merely to create edges but to say those say those edges are wrong.

Norms are used to create models. This is most people do, think, believe. This is correct behaviour. Either people comply to that or we view them as open to exclusion (it’s their fault really, we were only being fair).

This is when the rock starts crashing down towards Indiana Jones

A normal way of being has been judged and all other paths are viewed as either mistaken or wrong.


This is the final state and one we are all surrounded by all the time. Normality as the correct state of being.

I’ve done work on human transcendence in the last year as well as ongoing work in accessibility and cognitive accessibility. I am highly suspicious of Normality as we currently judge it in the Western nations.

  • Normality is a judgement.
  • Normality is exclusion
  • Normality is not normal.

The idea of Normality is only almost 170 years old but it is a construct. A construct built for the Industrial and Colonial ages. Normality was a glitch in human history.

We need to move on. Use big data, technology and society to escape the rushing rock.

Indiana Jones escaped the tunnel and the rock.

So can we.



Alastair Somerville

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