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Don Norman on Activity-Centered Design

Don Norman argues that human-centered design has some limtiations and that activity-centered design is a better option. Following is an ad hoc summary of his thinking.

Logic versus usage: The case for activity-centered design

blog post originally published as Norman (2006)

As the title suggests it argues that how organisations (and perhaps professions) are organised, operate and think “are too logical, too rational”. In a way that doesn’t gel with human behaviour.

Cites evidence from anthropology about how blacksmiths and carpenters organise their tools during usage. Janet Dougherty and Charles Keller call this organisational logic taskonomy

Norman suggests that human-centered design techniques lead to “hardware store” organisation. Where hammers are in the hammers section, and nails in the nails section. He labels this _taxonomy

Appropriate for libraries and stores “where the major problem is locating the desired item out of context”. Norman does point out that some stores have figured this out and “put potato chips and pretzels next to the beer”

He then compares reviews of various mobile phones contrasting taskonomy versus taxonomy design approaches.


Norman, D. A. (2006). Logic versus usage: The case for activity-centered design. Interactions, 13(6), 45-ff.

Taskonomy: A Practical Approach to Knowledge Structures on JSTOR. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2021, from