Response – The Design of Everyday Things (Preface and Ch. 1)

The Design Of Everyday Things (Preface and Ch. 1)

Norman’s preface and first chapter reminds us “It could always be otherwise.” I found myself sizing up gadgets and interfaces immediately upon beginning this read. Fortunately for me, I started doing this on a great place: an airplane. Shortly thereafter, I was able to size up household gadgets, but in an unfamiliar home. The first – and most painful – example of poor design I found was in the kitchen of this home. What I thought was a built-in soap dispenser turned out to be a dispenser for scalding hot water. To me, it looked like a soap dispensing nozzle, it was located near the corner of the sink where dishwashing materials would go, and there was nothing to indicate that hot water would come out of it (red handle, “HOT”, etc.), or a visual clue as to what this contraption would do to my poor hand. Anyway, I digress.

The three ideas and topics that Norman discusses and dissects are as follows.

1. It’s not your fault.

My friend looked at me like I was nuts when I said that I blame poor design, not my ignorance, for my burned hand. But that’s because we’re not necessarily taught to believe things should just work. There has to be some kind of learning curve, otherwise the device is probably a child’s toy or not worth learning, right? The biggest shift – even in that related to new media – will be in making websites and multi-media easier to understand, consume, and produce.


2. Design principles.

Conceptual models. Often times when faced with unfamiliar machinery, or in a case like Norman’s refrigerator, it’s a way of working backwards. However, I think engineering design and user interface design are more hand-in-hand, especially when considering a conceptual model. Say I’m confused about something and I build a conceptual model in my head. More often than not, when I do eventually figure out how to use something, my conceptual model differs from what is actually inside. So perhaps poor design is the result and permutation of bad engineering?

Feedback. – Feedback is one area where I think new media has done well. The early stages of the web had blue underlined links that turned red while you clicked them and turned purple after they were clicked. This concept still exists today. (Sup Craigslist.) Aside from a slow or malfunctioning machine, feedback is prevalent in media and computer interfaces.

Constraints. – This is where applying Norman’s writing to new media gets tricky, especially when we consider how much innovation and creative design has come from the misappropriation of a medium or device.

Affordances. – Affordances are somewhat limited in the context of new media, although I suppose we could say that the nature of electronic communications affords us such things as instantaneous communication.

3. The power of observation.

Observations? Now I’m full of ‘em, as evidenced by my initial reactions to sizing up kitchen gadgets and contraptions on an airplane. The next step is figuring out how to improve upon a poor design.

Remember:  “If people keep buying poorly designed products, manufacturers and designers will think they are doing the right thing and continue as usual.”


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