What I learned from the first HCI Designer at Apple

Jan 17, 2018, 12:55 PM

Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini is a human-computer interaction (HCI) legend who started his pioneering work at Apple. Here are five takeaways we learned from him that you can use in your work as a designer or engineer looking for better understanding in user-centered design.


Many of us working in the tech industry have certificates in SAFe or Scrum, but equivalents in User Experience design are limited. The most notable one is a certificate offered by Nielsen Norman group through their UX Conference that takes place in numerous locations. The User Experience certificate is obtained by attending five modules in the course program and completing an exam in each module.

Me and two colleagues participated in a three-day interaction design course held by one of the founders of Nielsen Norman group, Bruce “Tog” Tognazzini. Tog is a veteran human-computer Interaction (HCI) designer with over 55 patents in the US. His inventions include the “Rolling Blackout Password Entry System”. It’s the feature on iPhones that allows you to see the last character when you’re typing in passwords.

The three day course is packed with content ranging from organizational structure and business to theories behind certain design methodologies. Here are four ideas that any designer or design team can benefit from.

1. Back your hypothesis with data

Designers need facts to back up their sales pitch. Does your design aim to create a faster task performance or generate a higher click rate? A concept’s credibility is based on data derived from user testing. Not only do test results help you improve and adapt your design – a proven concept might convince whoever is funding your project to give you more resources.

2. Design for the whole society, not just your peer group

It’s problematic when an engineer creates a product that is only usable by other engineers. Instead, we should work in multidisciplinary teams and validate our solutions by testing them. According to Tog, multidisciplinary HCI’s foundations are laid in 20th century industrial design. Project teams were forced to consider infrastructure, technology, service design, and communication as well as societal and environmental issues. When the Constitution, a 1950s ocean liner was being built, it was no longer enough for it to just transport people. Instead, its cabins were prototyped in a New Jersey warehouse to ensure a comfortable user experience.

3. Assist users with a learning curve

Tog criticized “selfish” designers who are unable to empathize with the elderly or people with limitations in their vision or mobility. However, being accommodating doesn’t mean everything has to be basic. Complex products can be user-friendly if attention is paid to teaching the user how to operate them. Prioritize consistent and seamless user experiences over snazzy visuals. Industry standards make products harmonious to use and faster to create.

4. Evaluate the risk of a misunderstood message

Ambiguous design or communication can have dire consequences. A pun in a news headline is fairly harmless, but double meanings are not acceptable in a nuclear plant. Test instructions with end users to catch confusing messages that might lead to reduced ROI – or a life-threatening accident!

Should I attend this course?

To conclude, Nielsen Norman group’s publications in User Experience have been a major source of inspiration for Nitor’s design work. The three-day Interaction course is a good holistic take on human-computer interaction. The course is especially suited for engineers and management who are looking to understand user-centered design.

“Design is a process — an intimate collaboration between engineers, designers, and clients.” Henry Dreyfuss, Industrial Designer



Annina Kivikari is a Designer with skills ranging from digital design and moving image to marketing. She is also part of Nitor's award-winning Kulttuuritoimitus.