This Door must be Broken!

Have you ever pushed a door that said pull only to smash your face up against the glass in an embarrassing showing of your genius, but possibly flawed brain? Then did you get angry? Did you try again? And then maybe you strongly proclaim, “This door MUST be broken!” Well in this case, I regret to inform you, the consumer is at fault. Maybe you were moving too fast, or distracted, or just plain dumb; the door was clearly labeled and you chose to do the opposite. However, Norman points out that it is often not the fault of the consumer, in his chapter, The Psychopathology of Everyday Things.

Two of the most important aspects of a design are discoverability, or how possible it is to figure out the capabilities of the machine, and understanding, or how possible it is to figure putt how the machine is supposed to be used. The problem is the divide between the designer and the user. Engineers, the ones doing the designing, tend to have very logical brains. They assume that the consumers will as well. But as we know, consumers are a very diverse group of people, some logical and some completely illogical.

Norman introduces the idea of Human-Centered Design, or HCD. This approach “puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving” (Norman, 8). Previously, designers focused on Experience, Industrial, and Interaction Design, which all focus more on the designer than the human. HCD shifts the focus to the user of the product, and places the blame on the machine instead of the operator.

“Great designers produce pleasurable experiences” (Norman, 10).

This may seem like a rather simple explanation of great designers, but it is important to focus on the basics. The experience is what the consumer will use to decide whether or not they will purchase the product again or what they will tell their friends about the product. This, very clearly, will effect the success of the company in the long run.

Norman introduces the terms affordances and signifiers, to explain the relationship between the person and the object and how they communicate. An affordance allows the consumer to know what the object is capable of. A signifier, similarly, is an indicator that communicates how the object should be used. These are important communication devices that allow for the consumer to better understand the object. Feedback is also important because it communicates to the user whether or not the object is working. If I push a button, for example, I want to see a response on the machine so that I know something is happening, or else I will probably push it again until something happens. I am not a patient person.

There is a unique paradox of technology occurring currently all around us. It offers so much potential to make like better, but at the same time, it adds complexities that result in frustration and wasted time for the consumer. In the future, we will have to learn to balance the effects of engineered design and user-friendly design. Is it more important for the machine to look pretty or for the machine to work…every time…whoever is using it…no matter what?


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