An audience with Alan Cooper

By David Anderson (February 22nd, 2000)

Part 1 : Defining Interaction Design (original text on


Back around New Year 2000, I was considering how best to replace the Book Reviews at It seemed that rather than analyse what the authors had to say, it might be better to ask the authors directly - Interviews. So I was left with the next big question, "Who do you ask to do the first Interview?". The new site branding and slogan, "The Webzine for Interaction Designers" provided the answer. It had to be Alan Cooper. As author of two excellent books, "About Face" and last year's "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" he is the founding father of Interaction Design and perhaps its greatest advocate. To my surprise he said yes about a month later. The eventual result was an 80 minute phone call on Friday 11th February.

You don't so much interview Alan Cooper as the whole Cooper Interaction Design media machine. All the questions were submitted in advance for approval. It was to my surprise then that we strayed off the script right at the beginning and never quite regained the plot. The result was a fascinating 80 minutes of conversation which did much to help define what is all about and to lay out the road map for areas that Interaction Design needs to address. In part 1, Alan takes his time to explain exactly what he means by Interaction Design and why it isn't Interface Design and exactly what role Interaction Design plays in the whole gambit of User Centered Design disciplines.

Before the interview started I really thought I had some chance of holding my own with Alan Cooper. I thought I knew a bit about Interaction Design and I could ask some intelligent questions. We had a good script and we had an hour of his time. However, what was intended to be an Interview immediately became an audience with the master. It became difficult to slide in the questions as Cooper began to tear up the rulebook for the technology industry and throw it out. He discusses why Interaction Design is about complete systems architecture and he hits on what's wrong with relational databases; what's wrong with file systems; why Interaction Design is a lot more than Interface Design; and why he really doesn't like Usability much either.

We kicked off with an introduction to and a discussion of the audience and the message...

Accepting there is a problem

AC audience is probably what I would call, "Programmers who realize that programming alone doesn't solve the problem". That realization is the necessary first step to solving the problem. There are programmers who believe that the solution is a programming technique that they haven't been able to learn yet.

That's a problem. It's focusing on the technology alone that has gotten us into this mess and focusing on technology just isn't going to get us out of it.

It's like treating someone with a dependent relationship, the first step in curing someone is that they must admit that they have a problem.


I liked the focus in your book on an industry in denial. I could empathize with that. A lot of stuff that gets written makes me think, "Yeah, these guys are still in denial"


Yeah. And in the web world, it's just as prevalent, if not more so. In the PC world there was a lot of money. You could be in denial and still be having a financial success. In the web world, you can be in utter denial and be having a huge financial success because of all the distorted valuations. It's very easy to hide a bad user experience.


Yes, I'm sure. Investors won't see an advantage in improving a site that is worth 9 billion dollars already?


Yep. Very true.

Talking the Programmers' Language


So tell me, how important was it to be in California in order to make an Interaction Design Consultancy work?


Well that's a good question. I like to think that it wasn't that important but the Silicon Valley Juju goes a long way. There are a lot of people, particularly in the web world who view Silicon Valley as the place where you go to get the answers. California was certainly a contributor [to the success].

The landscape is different today but in 1992 when I began doing Interaction Design Consulting, what really made the difference was that I had firmly established credentials as a software developer. Had I not had those credentials, I could not be doing what I'm doing today.

Designers as a whole tend to come from the world of visual or typographic design, or they come from the academic world of Human Computer Interaction, Usability Professionals, Ergonomics, Human Factors, where basically they are using quantitative methods to document human behavior.

Programmers know how hard they work and they know how difficult their job is. I'm not sure that those visual designers or those usability designers are aware of that. But I'm aware of that. I know that, as I say in the book, you need to have "skin in the game". You have to be committed. Not just prepared to stand on the sidelines and toss their advice in to the guys hitting hard - the programmers.

One of the significant secrets of Cooper Interaction is our willingness to have skin in the game. To get in there and do Interaction Design with the same level of rigor and the same amount of detail that programmers put in to their work. I don't think that Usability Professionals or Visual Designers do that. Simply because they don't have that code cutting background. They don't know what it's like.


So are you saying that Cooper Interaction is capable of specifying requirements for the User Interface to programmers in a way that the programmers really appreciate and it makes their job a lot easier?


Yes. I am saying that but the main thrust is a little more nebulous than that. Programmers are not interested in making change for the sake of it. That means they have to do hard work on those changes. Programmers work very hard but they are very practical, logical people and they hate to make pointless changes.

Something we learned a long time ago is that HCI Professionals tend to guess at things and Visual Designers tend to guess at things. They say, "Well I think this looks pretty". HCI Professionals might look at it and say, "Well people are having trouble with this interaction. So I guess we should move this over here."


Yes. I know what you mean. The programmers get jerked around producing 5 or 6 alternatives, so that the bosses or customer can make a choice. There is resentment to this because the programmers feel that the design should have been done properly the first time.



Designers and traditional HCI Professionals, because they have never written code, they just don't know that. And they don't have a sensitivity for it.

I think that's a much bigger deal.

If you can say, "Here's the right idea", and somehow through a track record you can show that you know it's the right idea, then programmers will bend over backwards to make it happen for you. It's not about the ability to specify the design in programmers language, although that's a nice thing, it's a valuable thing, its an appreciated thing. The more precisely you can specify something, the better it will be rendered by the programmers.

The most important thing is that I am saying, "People who haven't coded, jerk the chain of programmer's". People who understand the programming process and come at it from a developer's point of view, don't do that.

We walk into a client and we say, "We're going to make a presentation and we're going to lay out our design". And we're usually doing this in front of management, marketing people and programmers. Programmers will say, "Why do you do it like that? Why do you not do it like this?" They never ask stupid questions. A programmer will always ask a good piercing important question. You can't look at the guy and say, "well we thought it would be a good idea", or "well we guessed it should be like this", or "we had 10 people try it and 7 of them liked it that way". Programmers know that is bogus!

We look at programmers and we say, "Because of this truth", "Because of this fact, we know this is better".

We tell our design team, that when they go into a meeting with a client, they should know at least 2 reasons why they made any one design decision. If you don't have at least 2 good reasons, then don't try to defend that design. It's not about preferences.


So it's not enough for a designer to turn around to a programmer and say "It's cool!"


Right! Cool is not a good design reason.

Interface Design is not Interaction Design


If you have a good design rationale, if you know that people are going to be searching for information in this place and this is an appropriate way to present choices to them and all other things being equal then presenting it in a cool way - I'm all for it - but there are all sorts of cool things which are cool the first time but the 10th time you use them, you hate them. So what you have to do is to say, "Who is going to use it?", "Is this going to be used by somebody once?" You can do cool stuff in a kiosk that someone is going to walk up to once and use just that once. That's OK.

If someone is going to sit down in front of it and use it 10 times per day for the next 3 years then you have got to get that "cool stuff" out of there because it's just going to get in the way.

We believe that good design is self-evident.

So that you can look at it and say, "Yeah. That is superior"

If you as a developer do not see that it's superior then you are probably not going to build it. Regardless of what rationale or what orders you are given from management.


I'd like to explore this point that good design is self evident. I often wonder whether the general public are able to follow when designers make a leap forward rather than just a minor increment. Their initial reaction to such radical changes is often negative because they are conservative and don't understand.
I wondered if you followed the debate about the development of the Swing Look and Feel ?


I confess that I didn't follow it.


To give you some background, the Organic L&F tried to follow advice from Don Norman and Edward Tufte. It was a very flat and clean looking design. No 3D. Minimal on screen clutter. The approach was arguably the better and more promising design but it was too radical. What Sun ended up with was Metal, which was kind of a compromise Windows look with Sun Corporate colors.


I don't consider that Interaction Design. Look and Feel stuff is Interface Design. It's all very stylistic. It's the color that you paint your walls. Interaction Design is about the Architecture. It's what kind of building are we building. What functions does it support. What are the shapes of the rooms and the walls and ceilings. What is the infrastructure. What kind of elevators. What kind of cooling and heating. That's Interaction Design.

Jerry Weinberg wrote about this a long time ago in "The Psychology of Computer Programming". What language is best? The language that you like best! So what's the best indentation method? The indentation method that you like best. And what's the best L&F? The L&F that you like best.

This just doesn't address the significant issue, which is Interaction Design! What does it [ the system ] do? How does it communicate? How does it behave? These are the fundamental issues.

Let's look at database queries. You issue a query to a database. It hands you back a solution set. This is a technology that's known. What we do is that we debate about how to have little dialog boxes to submit queries and display solution sets. That is interface design!

People generally don't ask fundamental questions like "In a situation, where I have a particular User, who is trying to accomplish a task, who is trying to achieve a goal, what are the appropriate methods of information retrieval for that person?" Would it be a query and solution set as the way to solve the problem. That is an Interaction Design question. It's one that is not often asked. But is the type of question that we ask here [at Cooper Interaction Design]. It's a very very different approach than asking "What should the dialog box look like".

Interaction Design is Architecture


So this is the key point about Interaction Design - it's Architecture - and everything else is merely Interior Decoration or Construction?


Yes. Yet the word Architecture is problematic. To come back to the database example, the query and solution set is based on setting a series of arguments for the search and then returning a subset of records that satisfy the arguments. This is the classic query and it's the reasonable thing to do if you're doing Operational Data Processing. If you're a human being who is trying to make sense of that Fire Hose of data coming at you, that query may in fact be obscuring the answer. This is the search engine problem where you get 4 million hits and you refine it down and you get 800,000 hits and you refine it down and you get 50,000 hits and you narrow it down and you get no hits.

The query tool is a very powerful one if you are trying to match invoices with purchase orders but it's a very poor tool when you have a human being who is trying to find out about adverse toxic reactions between drugs when intermixed.


Right! So it's Technology rather than the Goal.

I guess I've written about my own experience with the Seat Reservation System on Air New Zealand. The problem there was the optimistic locking mechanism in the database and how that exposed itself in the interface. I realize that you've written about this too and Seat Reservation Systems seem to be a pet hate or yours?


[laughing] Yeah, Seat Reservation Systems have been around a long time and they are a great resource but they are the kind of thing that only a trained user can use effectively. If you've had the experience of talking with a travel agent, you clearly get the sense that the travel agent is not finding the right stuff for you. Well that's a clear indication that they don't know how to work the travel system, not because they don't understand the travel business.

The point is that, if you are a Visual Designer, or if you are an HCI Professional, or even programmers you tend to approach things from the point of view of saying, what are the technological tools at your disposal. You say, Oh, I have a relational database. Therefore, I can issue a query and I can get back, in a batch mode, a solution set of a reduced number of choices.

You might have a real world situation where you have someone who walks into a library and searches based on a Dewey Decimal Categorization System number and then wants to see a list of related books. The query system fundamentally disallows this.

There is this whole class of human behavior which is not supported by the relational database query paradigm.

I'm not saying that this is a bad paradigm but pretty much all data retrieval in computer systems is based on that relational database query and solution set model. Because it's easy, programmers say, "Well that's how you do it" and it never occurs to them to ask whether this is the way that people want to look for information.

Interaction Design - a discipline for the Information Age


So is it the case that Technologies and their limitations are not well understood and people expect far too much from a technology that was never designed for the purpose?


You have to be careful here. I believe that in the Industrial Age we had technology. Technology had firm limits dictated by physics. Steel is a wonderful building material. It's so wonderful that I can build skyscrapers and bridges with it. But what you can't do is say, "Steel is so Wonderful that I'm going to build a bridge across Lake Michigan out of 500lbs of steel".


Right! But you can do this with software. Or at least you can try?


You got it!

In the Information Age, in the Digital Age, the limitations are not imposed by the fundamental characteristics or the physics of our devices. We have computers that go plenty fast but if there is a limitation then you just buy a few hundred thousand more and make them work in parallel.

What we are limited by is our imagination. We built databases, and big companies like Oracle who build giant relational databases tell the world, this is how information is stored, this is how it is massaged and this is how it is retrieved.

This is like saying all bridges are 30 feet long and formed into a truss. Well in the physical world if all you had was wood then that is true.

A programmer comes at a problem from the point of view that there are only 3 numbers: 0, 1 and infinity. So a programmer says, well if I'm going to create a database, then I will create a technology that will support an infinite number of records. That's the way they think about construction. But what if you're building a name and address book to run on your Palm Pilot?

You will never have more than a couple of thousand entries. All that incredible efficiency, all that factoring out of common information and storing things in little fields, is really good when you have to have billions of records. A friend of mine designs data stores for companies like Wal-Mart and he deals with a billion records per day. He has issues like how do you normalize everything? How to make everything fail safe? Applying that technology to 5 or 6 hundred names in a Palm Pilot is inappropriate.

On the Other Hand, the designers say that it doesn't have to be a massive redundant, fail over system, but they still use the same basic model, of a database with fixed length fields, key searched. Why can't I logically group things? I can categorize things. I can say, here is a name that belongs in my list of business names, here's another which belongs in my list of personal names, but I have lots of names that need to be in both lists. I'm not allowed to do that because the Interaction Designer didn't think in terms of what Goals is the human going to try and accomplish. Instead they looked at the problem from the point of view of "What technology am I given".


Right. And it may well be the case that the Interaction Designer was brought in at the end and told, "This is the data model, and this is the type of query it supports" and then there is not much that they can do.


The no.1 thing that you can do to create a better product is to bring the Interaction Designer in early.

What you'll find is that Visual Designers brought in too early will freak out. An HCI Professional brought in sufficiently early will freak out because they have nothing to do, nothing to measure. They don't know how to design software which actually solves problems.

A real Interaction Designer will rub their hands with glee and say, "Oh Boy! We have an opportunity to do something really good here"

Part 2 : Saving the World - One Click at a Time! (original text on

Introduction to Part 2

In the second half of my audience with Alan Cooper, we try with some difficulty to get back to the original script.

In this second part, we talk about Cooper's books, "About Face" and "The Inmates are Running the Asylum". We look at Interaction Design issues with Web sites and Portals and Wireless Web Devices and WAP Phones. We talk about old Industrial Age marketing techniques and why the Information Age has heralded in a paradigm shift away from broadcast media and old fashioned mass marketing think. And finally, what is wrong with that word "Design".

Throughout Alan Cooper demonstrates that he's a lot more than a reformed geek with a God given ability for delivering a more usable product. No. Beyond that he has a deeper understanding of the big picture in the high technology industry and why you need to look at the whole problem - marketing, product design, strategy, branding and technology together, from a User Centered Goal Oriented perspective if you're going to get it right and beat your competition.

Complexity is not the problem with Web Interaction


I have a feeling that the quantity of information available on the net is growing so fast. And, the expectation of business owners and what can be delivered, is growing so fast. All this is happening much faster than our ability to understand the problems with such information and the problems of what people want to do with it.

The result is that the quality of the Interface is deteriorating because we simply can't get a handle on this problem fast enough. Would you agree with this?


I agree with that! Let me talk a little about why it is true.

The issue is not complexity. The human mind happens to be an awesome tool for grasping and managing enormous complexity. That is what it is really good at. The human mind does wonderfully sophisticated tasks. The human mind in an instant can look at a face and recognize it and remember it. We just don't have computer programs which can do that. Little kids can do it - with hundreds and hundreds of faces.

When you wake up in the morning and look around, you see so much stuff that if complexity were an issue you would just pass out.

So complexity is not the issue.

Remember what programmers do: they role-play being a central processing unit. When you are doing this role playing and are given the task of recognizing a face then you freak out. You say, "Gosh, the problem is complexity"

The human mind doesn't work that way. The human mind is very different from a traditional central processor. I highly recommend the book, "How the Mind Works" by Steven Pinker.

The point is that, it is really a good thing to let humans do human like stuff. Let the humans do stuff that they are good at and let the computer do things that computers are really good at.

For example, using any typical operating system e.g. Linux, NT, MacOS, when you create a chunk of data, you have to put it in a named data block, some file. You then have to put that in some place, in a positionally notated storage hierarchy. So you have to choose a name, and you have to choose and specify a place, a node in a tree. When you want that information back again, you have to remember the name that you gave it and you have to remember the place that you stored it. Then you go to that place, remembering the name, and there it is. You can retrieve that data. It's very logical and it's very appropriate but this is a model which is designed for computers.

The Problem is that humans are really bad at remembering names and places. With that kind of specificity, especially in a recursive hierarchy, where the nodes are exactly alike regardless of what level they are. Of course, computers happen to be really good at remembering stuff like that. However, the computer doesn't give me any help in remembering. The computer delegates that [remembering] job to the human. That's because the guys who invented operating systems.... that sort method comes from Kernighan and Plauger, from Unix. If you're a computer program remembering a simple file name in a directory is a trivial task. They [ the operating system inventors] just handed that task out to the human user.

That is not a simple or trivial task for humans. No one has ever gone back in and said, "Hmmm. Is this appropriate?" I talk a lot about this in my first book, "About Face".

One of the really interesting things is that the World Wide Web really attenuated the quality and vigor with which the computer programming community, forced users to deal with that recursive, hierarchical file system, and the problem of remembering names and places. This is one of the significant reasons why using the web is easier than using desktop software.

The problem is that the cost of doing that was that the web was less powerful. Now what we are seeing is that the web is getting increasingly powerful and we find that Users are having to do more and more remembering. We're falling back into those old models and the result is that it [the web] is getting hard to use again.

The issue isn't complexity. The issue is inappropriateness.

If I said to you, "Here is a 14 digit number that I want you to memorize" If you were a computer that would be appropriate; if you are a human that would be inappropriate.

The Wireless Internet


That would be even harder if you were accessing the Internet on a wireless device and had to use the phone's keypad to type it in.


Right. You look at a telephone and you see those 12 buttons [ the numbers plus * and # ]. Those 12 buttons are very very old. Their presence is not defensible.... from a Goal-Directed(R) point of view.

Even though I use my telephone all the time, the one thing that I never want to do, is refer to my telephonic correspondence by number. In fact, I'm not sure that I want to refer to them by name either. So 1-800-flowers is much more convenient to remember than trying to remember 356-xxxxxx etc. What I'd really like to do is be able to see a picture of flowers or be able to say "flowers" [to the phone].


So, good Interaction Design is a lot to do with cutting down what the human has to remember, focusing on what the Goal is, and what the human is good at versus what the machine is good at. Let the machine do the hard stuff that it is good at.



If you have a modern cell phone then you know that you have probably recorded into the memory, 50 or 100 phone numbers, and you probably have a speed dial of 8 or 10 numbers which you dial frequently. If you think about the number of times that you key in from scratch, a phone number - area code, prefix, number - is maybe 1 in 10. The other 9 times, you use numbers which the phone has already remembered. Yet the physical interface of the phone which is presented is highly tilted towards dialing those numbers from scratch.

You need a functional overlay and you have to switch into a meta-mode in order to dial up numbers which the phone has already memorized and you regularly dial. This is because we don't think from a Goal-Directed(R) point of view. We don't look at the way people actually do things. Instead we look at the technology and we say, "The way you telephone someone is by typing in a number." Then we say, "Hey we could make this more convenient by having it remember numbers".

Why not instead say, "People always call, the people that they always call". Then you could have something simple like a knob on the top of telephone which just spins through the top 20 people that you call all the time. And by the way, for the rare occasions when you do have to call a strange number, then you turn it over and open up the back and there are the numbers [keys].

When you use Goal-Directed(R) Thinking then you can easily come to those kinds of conclusions. Otherwise you are always thinking from the point of view of technology or from the point of view of business. Business tends to look at the competition. Technology people tend to look at yesterday's technology and extend it.

Tell us about "Inmates"


Its been a year or so since it [The Inmates are Running the Asylum] was published. How has it been received? Is the audience listening?


The book has been a big success. It's a big fish in a small pond. I didn't get on Oprah! like I thought I would (he laughs). If you look on then you'll find around 43 reviews posted. 40 of them rave about the book and 3 of them say "It's not the programmers, it's somebody else", which I think proves my point.

I absolutely feel that the book has made a difference.

It took 20 months to write the book. It was published in April 1999. When I began the book, the world consisted of programmers and managers. I felt that the managers had stepped down from their role of responsibility and had handed the reins of the industry to the programmers. Meanwhile, the programmers were trying to do the best they could but with the wrong tools. That's why I called the book, "The Inmates are Running the Asylum". I was addressing the book towards managers and saying that by giving the reins to the programmers, you are making a mistake.

I was saying that what needs to happen is you [the managers] need to bring design into the world.

So, welcome to the year 2000. Now, designers are a part of everything. Companies today, big and small, old and new, have created positions at the VP level for User Experience, User Interaction, Chief Experience Officer. These are typical. You find these roles in companies from IBM to Yahoo! to tiny little startups that you have never heard of.


Is this a Silicon Valley phenomena? I haven't come across this, myself, so far.


It's sweeping the industry. I think that you will see this universally within a year or two. It already enormously influential today. American business does not create a VP position lightly. So this is serious. People believe that the User Experience is important. There is an idea that design is part of the solution.

Promoting Interaction Design as a Profession


I guess that my job is Interaction Designer. However, I find it next to impossible to find companies who are willing to hire Interaction Designers. All my colleagues who do this stuff actually have other job titles. I have the feeling that Interaction Design just doesn't get the press that it needs.

I see a lot of Web Designers talking about Information Architecture and how it is really, really important to the design of a good web site. Then there is Information Engineering, Usability Engineering, HCI and so forth, coupled to the huge success of Jakob Nielsen's book which is pushing Usability Engineering.

What can be done to raise the profile of Interaction Design and promote the fact that Interaction Design isn't Usability Engineering?


Well, you touch on a problem that we have encountered. Unfortunately the word "design" has a very different interpretation in business. Design is considered to be a creative process that is applied at the very end of the heavy lifting and that it has a very minor affect on a product. So the word "design" is problematic.

Usability Engineering, on the other hand, and all usability stuff, has the singular advantage of having a lot of pseudo scientific data which impresses a lot of people.

I saw my task as "Making the World safe for humanity, one click at a time!"

So I set about figuring out how to do that. I realized that what you have to do is create a discipline which focuses on the User, the eCustomer, the person at the other end. So, we created here our methodology we call the Goal-Directed Approach. It's based on understanding the User by understanding their Goals. And understanding their Goals by understanding the User.

I saw this as a design process. We fed the Goal-Directed Approach into our design process and we positioned it that way. I call myself an Interaction Designer. However, it's an interesting problem. When you say, "design", you marginalize yourself in the industry. What we have realized is, that if you take a Goal-Directed Approach and apply it to Interface Design then you will get a better Interface. But that is not significant. It won't have a significant impact on the success of the product. It will make it nicer. However, it will be way too late in the process to have a significant influence.

With Interaction Design and the Goal-Directed Approach has an enormous benefit on the strategic makeup of the product and it has an enormous beneficial effect on the strategic positioning of the company, and of the brand, and of pricing, and of channels, and of all marketing. It turns out that the Goal-Directed Approach has an enormous strategic benefit and value.


So how do you sell that? Should it be called Interaction Architecture rather than Interaction Design?


Well we wonder that too and we are wrestling with that right now.

Design is Toxic


The word "design" is toxic in the world of business.

The number 1, single most important thing that you, Mr. Product Developer can do to maximize your quality and effectiveness and make your customer happy, is bring Goal-Directed Interaction Design in earlier in the process.

When you say the word "design", business people tell you that design comes at the end of the process. So we are in this weird oxymoronic situation where the name we have selected is toxic to what it is that we are trying to accomplish. We don't yet know what the solution is.

It's a huge problem.

All that Usability Engineering stuff is very very expensive. What it does is say, "We will make your product better". That's good! But it doesn't say what the cost is. It's like the Clean Air Initiative. The Clean Air Initiative, is that a good thing? Would it have been better not to have filled our skies with smog in the first place? Yes!

So I find myself in the situation that people know I am a critic of Usability. I'm not a critic of Usability because I think it doesn't work. No. It's like being a critic of chemotherapy because it would be better if we could prevent cancer rather than have to use highly draconian measures to cure it.


So can we sell the Interaction Design notion as prevention rather than cure?


I like to say that good Goal-Directed Design allows you to produce release 3 quality in the release 1 timeframe.

Demographics vs. Personas


Let's talk a little about introducing Personas and Usage Scenarios to Marketing People.

I had a client recently with a lot of very expensive market research information. This research defined market segments, types of people who might be prospective customers. The problem I had with this was the vagueness of the definitions.

However, the marketing people at the client really believed that their research had nailed the problem so they were very skeptical about the Persona Definitions and openly said it was wasting their time. What do you say to people who raise that kind of objection? How do we get buy-in for your methodology?


Well, yep. That is a problem.

Everyone wants better solutions and happier customers.

Industrial Design is a discipline which has been around for quite a while and was developed as a methodology to help tame the excesses of the industrial age. Well, the industrial age is over. It's now the digital age. Now we need digital methodologies. Industrial Design was a nice thing for making real nice buttons which look pushable. It's not very good at all for making buttons which allow people to understand the consequences of their pushing them. Consequences are an Interaction Design Issue. It's a Digital Issue.

The same thing is true of marketing. All those marketing people are contemporary marketeers. They were educated in the marketing techniques of today. These were matured in the 50s and 60s when radio and TV matured to their full potential. These are broadcast paradigms.


So is it the case that marketing people are not reading Regis McKenna, or Geoffrey Moore, and others? Or are they reading that stuff but failing to understand it? Or reading it but taking the wrong message from it?


All of the above. [That stuff] is not being reflected. They have an existing method of marketing that they use. The reality is that such techniques worked for broadcast media. When you are broadcasting your message, you have to think in terms of demographics and channels to market. When you're working in the digital age and dealing with all this complex functionality, you have to be thinking in terms of Users and specific scenarios.

The example I use is the guy who works on the assembly line at the automotive plant in Haywood, California. He is a working class guy, likes to watch TV and drink beer, on the weekend he gets in his pickup truck and he goes up to the Sierra Nevadas and goes out into his favorite trout fishing stream and stands there in his waders and does a little fly fishing.

Then there is the executive, who is Chairman of the Board of the automotive plant. He eats at fancy French restaurant. He makes a lot of money. He drives a Mercedes Benz off-road vehicle. On the weekends, he too likes to get away from it all. So he drives up to the Sierra Nevadas and wades out into the same stream in his really expensive Orbis Hip Waders and uses his 300 dollar fishing rod and he stands not 50 feet away from the other guy who works for him on the assembly line. Both trying to catch a trout.

From a demographic point of view, there is no two more different guys. Now, if you own then these guys are your market. It's not a broadcasting world anymore. So all those old lessons of marketing are no longer applicable.

It's a cliché to say that the world is changing because of computerization. However, people don't realize when it's pulling the rug out from under them. Marketing people call the World Wide Web, "the New Media". The problem with this is that they then think it's just like the old media. But it isn't! They thought that TV was radio with pictures but it's not. The World Wide Web is vastly different from those Broadcast media.

Marketing people used to think in terms of demographics and problems like how do you sell a toothbrush. Well that is very very different from how you sell a [cellular] telephone. How you use a toothbrush is pretty much the same because it's a mechanical device. I don't care whether you are short or tall, or skinny or fat. How you use your toothbrush is pretty much the same as how everyone else uses it.

However, you can be demographically speaking, the same gender, the same age, the same income and the way you use your cellular phone is dramatically different from the way the guy standing next to you is using it. That's because it is really an Information Object and not a Physical Object.

All that marketing think just doesn't apply anymore.

So all that market research data isn't a waste but you need to turn the slant on it and make people aware that it just isn't about mass marketing anymore. It's about individual marketing.


I certainly find market research useful because it guides us to choose particular Personas from the broad spectrum which might be available.


Absolutely. All that research is great. We are omnivorous about data. We're hungry for market research. We'll eat it all. We also like to go out into the field and do our own corroborative stuff.

We like to poke around and look for surprises because it's always the surprises which are the most valuable. If we could predict the surprises then we wouldn't be needed.

New Media vs. Old Media


So is it true to say that simply trying to "push the message" doesn't work anymore because you can't be sure people want to hear it?


It's really easy to say, "Old media. New Media" and you take from it, that old media was watercolors and new media is oils. But it's not that way at all.

Old Media is carvings in stone and new media is communication from another planet. It is a dramatically different thing. We haven't really gotten there [ to the correct answer ] yet.

If you go out on the web, you can see the incredible emphasis placed on mass marketing. I believe that mass marketing will die way down. It won't go away. In the same way that radio didn't kill newspapers, and TV didn't kill radio, new Media and the WWW will not kill mass marketing but will change it forever. Radio didn't kill newspapers but it changed its role in our daily life. TV didn't kill radio, it just relegated it into our automobiles.


Like photography changed painting?



The Internet is going to relegate broadcast media to a narrow band of influence. You are still going to see TV ads aimed at the lowest common denominator but it is not going to be the way that the bulk of people get information and do their commerce.

It used to be that people bartered for goods with their neighbors, then came along cities and stores, then came supermarkets and department stores, then the retailing experience changed again. People still barter but it's a tiny tiny part of commerce. What's going to happen is that not all of retail is going to the web but an enormous segment of it is going to the web.

So you're still going to have people who like to go shopping and places such as "Nike Town" where it's an experience and the purchased item is a souvenir of the shopping experience. People will still do that kind of retail. However, when it's time to get a pair of shoes exactly like the last pair I had which are now worn out. I'm not going to go to a store. I'm going to do that on the Internet.

Summing Up


To sum up, is there anything else that you'd like to cover? We seem to have wandered off the script.


Clearly, you are grappling with the terminology, "So am I!"

The really encouraging thing is, and I presented this at a talk to my own people recently, and I said, "When we started 8 years ago, we said that we are going to change the world because people are unaware of the power of Goal-Directed Interaction Design." We were going to change that and make people aware.

So the other day, I said to my people, "We won!", because now everyone is aware. It hasn't made it into all the corners of the world yet but basically, it's not a discussion about whether this is worth paying attention to. It's a question of "just how much attention should we devote to this?" I consider that a great victory.

I really think that we have turned a corner and I'm really excited. Even though, every day, I see examples of really bad digital products out there, I know that the forces within those companies which produce [ the digital products ], those forces understand that they are living on borrowed time and that they are going to have to fix them eventually.

I think that things are still going to get worse before they get better. However, I am now convinced that things really are going to get better. Whereas 5 years ago, the issue was in doubt.


Well, thankyou very much for sharing your thoughts with us Alan.


All I can say is,

"Keep fighting the good fight, David!"

Cheers and Good Luck with the site.