Have you ever tried to pull a door open only to realize it needed to be pushed instead? Or pushed on the wrong side of a door before discovering the correct side?

The_Design_of_Everyday_Things_(cover_1988)If so, then you have experienced what Don Norman criticizes in his book The Design of Everyday Things: poor design. Poor design is all around us–if you’ve ever attempted to plug in a USB device and had to try again because you attempted to insert it upside down, then you’ve experienced what Norman is talking about.

Norman also discusses the factors that accompany good design. These include discoverability and usability. Users should be able to figure out simple devices by the use of visual or audible cues–a vertical metal bar fastened to the right side of a door suggests “push here,” just as a visible hinge column can indicate a door may be pulled. Norman calls these visual cues “signifiers,” and they indicate what sort of functionality a device or object affords.

poor design
poor design – this symmetrical head make it easy to attempt to connect upside-down.
better design
better design – this asymmetrical head makes the proper orientation visually apparent.

The Design of Everyday Things is the sort of book that even non-designers (i.e. most people) will appreciate, allowing them to identify design flaws and make better decisions about what they buy and use, because appliances with good design can save time and frustration. One of the paradoxes of design is that when a device has good design, the design becomes invisible. Only when something is poorly designed do we notice the device–that’s why we notice doors when they don’t open as we expect, software that doesn’t give feedback to our actions, and…containers of liquid with bad spouts that slosh when poured (just to point out an example from the past week!).

Good design is critical to making everyday life easier and frustration-free. While The Design of Everyday Things is a good read, simply being aware of a few design principles–making a device discoverable by the use of visual or aural signifiers, providing feedback to users–will make life more enjoyable.

Do you have any experiences with good or bad design? Share in the comments below!

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