Norman received a BS degree from MIT (1957) and a MS (1959) degree from the University of Pennsylvania, both in Electrical Engineering. His doctorate, from the University of Pennsylvania, is in Mathematical Psychology (1962). Following his PhD, Norman was first a Research Fellow then a lecturer at the Centre for Cognitive Studies and Department of Psychology at Harvard University between 1962 and 1966. During this time, the Centre for Cognitive Studies was headed by George Miller, one of the founders of cognitive psychology.
In 1966 Norman joined the University of California, San Diego where he remained for 27 years. In 1968 he began a cognitive psychology research group (called LNR) with Peter Lindsay and Dave Rumelhart. When Lindsay left in 1970 to travel the world the group name was changed to the Cognitive Science Lab, which led later to the Department of Cognitive Science (of which Norman was a founder and the first Chair). Norman was also one of the founders of the Cognitive Science Society, chair of the society and editor of its journal, Cognitive Science, activities that did much to shape the development of Cognitive Science as a discipline.
In 1993 he became Professor Emeritus in the Department of Cognitive Science at the University of California, San Diego, and began a varied career incorporating stints as Vice President and head of the Apple Research Laboratories at Apple Computer (1993-1997), Head of the Appliance Design Centre at Hewlett-Packard (1997-1998) and most recently, as president of UNEXT Learning systems (a for-profit distance education provider).
Norman's influence is both in the development of cognitive science, and more recently in the design of technology. According to Norman:
The technological problems today are sociological and organizational as much as technical. In this new age of portable, powerful, fully-communicating tools, it is ever more important to develop a humane technology, one that takes into account the needs and capabilities of people. The technical problems are relatively easy. It is the people-part that is hard: the social, psychological, cultural, and political problems are the ones that are the most difficult -- and the most essential -- to address.