Minutes of the 2391st Meeting

At the Cosmos Club, Washington, DC
April 6, 2018

President Larry Millstein called the 2,391st meeting of the Society to order at 8:04 p.m. in the John Wesley Powell Auditorium of the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. He announced the order of business, that the evening’s lecture would be livestreamed on the internet, and welcomed new members to the Society. The minutes of the previous meeting and the lecture by Andrew Knoll were approved without correction.


President Millstein then introduced the speaker for the evening, Don Norman, Director of the Design Lab at the University of California – San Diego. His lecture was titled, “Democratizing Design: Providing Knowledge and Tools to Everyone.”

The Design Lab approaches complex socio-technical problems as systems with no single cause or solution. Distinguishing the Design Lab from traditional academia, Norman said that rather than attempting to identify pure truths, his team focuses on solutions that are “good enough” to make a difference.

While there is active disagreement amongst scientists about the details, Norman said there is often scientific consensus on the big issues. He believes the points of general agreement are “good enough” to begin taking action.

Norman also believes the communities affected by big problems are the best resource for solving those problems. For example, in Phoenix, Arizona, the city offered multiple transit solutions presented as competing proposals. Rather than present an expert opinion to sway decisionmakers into one direction, Norman’s presented them with a construct demonstrating that the city budget could allow for a compromise solution. The city itself thus produced its own comprehensive transit plan that Norman contends would have otherwise been rejected if presented by an outside expert.

Norman also advocated using modern technologies to crowd-source solutions. As example, Norman told the story of families of diabetics across the country who used open source software to connect and to develop an integrated blood sugar monitor and insulin pump. Norman said this process legally bypassed FDA regulations and came up with a solution that commercial industry would not have done on its own in the same time.

Norman concluded by proposing democratized education. He said that learning through attempting to solve complex problems is more effective than single-subject lecture-based learning. In so doing, Norman said that people can teach themselves.

President Millstein then invited questions from the audience.

A guest asked whether Norman had considered prize-motivated development. Norman responded that prizes are an effective tool to dramatically advance solutions, citing DARPA and the X-Prize as examples.

After the question and answer period, President Millstein thanked the speaker, made the usual housekeeping announcements, and invited guests to join the Society. At 9:21 p.m., President Millstein adjourned the 2,391st meeting of the Society to the social hour.


Weather: Partly Cloudy
Temperature: 19°C
Attendance: 117

Respectfully submitted,
James Heelan
Recording Secretary


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