The death of Norm
Norm, a well known character in the User Experience industry, died soon after the discovery of how WEIRD* he was.
A young American man (of European descent), Norm was a permanent student with a great love for individual consumer goods. He was so popular that everyone agree he represented literally everyone in the world (apart from a few slightly edgy people).
Norm was very average and was at the center of any group of people he was in. He was the ‘go to’ guy for journalists, economists and researchers whenever they needed opinions on global events.
He died quickly as his friends and colleagues realised he was imaginary.
The birth of Di
Di was born all the time, everywhere but this startling event was ignored by everyone as it didn’t occur in America, about 20 years ago.
Di’s life is both well known but totally ignored and totally unknown and unrecorded. Di is gender fluid and neurodiverse with a mixed racial background and is not very WEIRD.
Di finds many global products and services oddly hard to access or use and would love to talk to people about that.
Di is real and always will be.
I spoke on World Usability Day 2017 in Rome about the problem of designing to ideas from work in data-driven personas and social psychology research.
The trap of working with large data sets but only seeing averages and the exclusionary ideals of the modern Normal.
The trap works like this:-
- Data collected about the behaviour of a small group of individuals is averaged.
- This averaged data is modelled and published as proof of general behaviour.
- People are pressured by media and society to try and behave like these models.
- That behaviour is then captured as proof of the models.
- People who do not or cannot behave like the model are rejected as outliers or edge cases.
The process is self-sealing and self-correcting. It can only prove itself to be correct as it establishes ways of excluding evidence of its errors.
These themes appear in many new books. For example, look at Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics and Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harare. There are also many books on the problem of Normal. Look at Normality: A Critical Genealogy by Stephens and Cryle and Todd Rose’s The End of Average.
Reading Sam Ladner’s Practical Ethnography is recommended. To use the ethnographic approach of listening to and writing research from the individual perspective. The Emic approach to research not the Etic approach. Knowledge from within, not projected onto.
The death of Norm may seem sad but there are such vast opportunities in celebrating the birth of Di.
*WEIRD – White European Industrialised Rich Democratic
The Death of Norm, the Birth of Di
I’m happy to give this talk (for travel expenses only) anywhere. Let me know if you’re interested.