Not a blog post per se, just stashing some of the passages that jumped out at me as important things to keep in mind from these readings. One of the very first radio segments I produced was an interview with Don around when The Design of Future Things came out. There’s a lot of stuff to chew on in these readings and I’m looking forward to diving more into the books in the future.
Norman, Design of Everyday Things, ch. 1
The Psychopathology Of Everyday Things
The user needs help. Just the right things have to be visible: to indicate what parts operate and how, to indicate how the user is to interact with the device. Visibility indicates the mapping between intended actions and actual operations…
Principles constituting a form of psychology of how people interact with things:
- appropriate clues
affordances – the perceived and actual properties of things and materials
ex: glass – seeing through + breaking, wood – writing on
Affordances provide strong clues to the operation of things.
When simple things need pictures, labels, or instructions, the design has failed.
conceptual model – how people can mentally simulate the operation of devices
- affordances – clues
- constraints – limits
- mappings – set of possible operations
Fundamental principles of designing for people:
- provide a good conceptual model
- make things visible
types of conceptual models:
- design model – designer’s conceptual model
- user’s model – mental image developed through interaction with the system
- system image – results from the physical structure that has been build (including documentation, instructions, labels)
All communication takes place through the system image. Use sample scenarios to determine whether users’ needs would be met, or whether users can understand operation.
vestigial features – hard to remove features of a newly designed product that existed in a previous version – like physical evolution, if not associated with negativity (overt customer gripes) it can hang on for generations. Designers can come up with plausible-sounding examples for almost anything.
Automobile vs Telephone
Whenever the # of possible actions exceeds the # of controls, there is apt to be difficulty.
Natural Mapping – taking advantage of physical analogies and cultural standards leads to immediate understanding. spatial mapping, etc.
A device is easy to use when there is visibility to the set of possible actions, where the controls and displays exploit natural mappings.
Feedback – sending user info about what action has been done.
modern telephone systems basically have more features and less feedback.
Factors against designing well:
- manufacture – needs for economy
- store – needs for attractiveness to customers
- purchaser (in store) – price + appearance + maybe prestige value
- purchaser (at home) – functionality + usability
It usually takes 5 or 6 attempts to get a product right. Maybe it can be introduced a 2nd or 3rd time, but after that it’s dead. New products are almost guaranteed to fail, no matter how good the idea.
EMOTION & DESIGN: ATTRACTIVE THINGS WORK BETTER
When I wrote The Design of Everyday Things, my intention was not to denounce beauty. I simply wanted to position usability in its proper place in the design world: equal to beauty, equal to function: equal, but not superior.
The field of usability design takes root in the cognitive sciences — a combination of psychology, computer science, human factors, and engineering. These are all analytical fields. The discipline prides itself on its scientific basis and experimental rigor. The hidden danger is to neglect areas that are not easily addressed in the framework of science and engineering.
The concepts of affect, emotion, feelings, mood, motivation, and qualia, I use the reasonably neutral term of “affect.”
Affect and cognition can both be considered information processing systems, but with different functions and operating parameters. Each system impacts the other: some emotions — affective states — are driven by cognition, and cognition is impacted by affect.
The affective system is judgmental, assigning positive and negative valence to the environment rapidly and efficiently.
The cognitive system interprets and makes sense of the world.
AFFECT AND BEHAVIOR
The surprise is that we now have evidence that pleasing things work better, are easier to learn, and produce a more harmonious result. – Wash and polish your car: doesn’t it drive better?
Negative affect focuses the mind, leading to better concentration. In cases of an immediate threat this is good, for it concentrates processing power upon the danger. When creative problem solving is required this is bad, for it leads to narrow, tunnel vision. Negative affect can make it harder to do even easy tasks.
Positive affect broadens the thought processes, making it more easily distractible. When the problem requires focus, this is bad, but when the problem is best addressed through creative, out-of-the-box thinking, then this is precisely what is needed. Positive affect can make it easier to do difficult tasks.
Imagine a plank 10 meters long and 1 meter wide. Place it on the ground. Can you walk on it? Of course – no problem. You can jump up and down, dance, and even walk along with your eyes shut. Now lift the plank 3 meters in the air. Can you walk on it? Yes, although more carefully. What if the plank were 200 meters in the air? Most of us wouldn’t dare go near it, even though the act of walking along it and maintaining balance should be no more difficult than when on the ground. Why would a simple task suddenly become so difficult – impossible, even? Tell yourself all you want that if you can walk on the plank on the ground, you can still walk on it in the air. You still won’t walk along it, let alone jump and dance or, heaven forbid, close your eyes while walking. Fear dominates.
The affective system works independently of thought. Your thoughts are occurring after the affective system has released its chemicals.
Mind you, you can override this impact. Circus performers and steelworkers can function on narrow platforms at great heights. You can learn to overcome your affective reactions, but it takes time, and practice. It requires a deliberate, conscious act, at least at first, to overcome the built-in responses. (Beware, though, circus performers and steelworkers sometimes do fall to their deaths.)
Note that the anxiety produced by walking a plank high in the air — or even by performing in public — can be beneficial.
Anxiety focuses the mind, reducing distractions. It is when the negative affect is too strong that performance is inhibited, whether because of the fear of falling or stage fright. Some performers welcome anxiety, for they recognize that the proper amount helps them focus and do their best.
Positive affect can make some difficult tasks easier. In a clever set of experiments, Alice Isen has shown that if people are given small, unexpected gifts, afterwards they are able to solve problems that require creative thought better than people who were not given gifts.
Anxiety has just the opposite effect: it biases the processing to be depth first, to focus and concentrate. Here, people are less distractible. Anxiety and fear squirt neural transmitters into the brain that narrow the thought process. In general, this is good for focus upon a specific threat or problem.
Negatively valenced affect narrows the thought processes – hence depth-first processing and less susceptibility to interruption or distraction. Usually, this works just fine: when danger strikes, we need to concentrate attention, to avoid distraction by irrelevant, extraneous matters. Tunnel vision is often the correct approach.
Positively valenced affect broadens the thought processes – hence enhanced creativity. This is useful when in a positive situation, with no time pressures. Then, it is often profitable to be distractible, to follow side thoughts, to release creativity. Sometimes, of course, the tunnel vision can lead to harm, just as sometimes the broadening of the thought process can distract can prevent solution.
Take a simple example — trying to escape a hazardous situation. Designs intended for stressful situations have to pay special attention to matching the needs of the users, to making appropriate actions salient and easy to apply. In other words, the principles of good human-centered design are especially important in stressful situations.
Now consider tools meant for neutral or positive situations. Here, any pleasure derivable from the appearance or functioning of the tool increases positive affect, broadening the creativity and increasing the tolerance for minor difficulties and blockages. Minor problems in the design are overlooked. The changes in processing style released by positive affect aids in creative problem solving that is apt to overcome both difficulties encountered in the activity as well as those created by the interface design.
In other words, when we feel good, we overlook design faults. Use a pleasing design, one that looks good and feels, well, sexy, and the behavior seems to go along more smoothly, more easily, and better. Attractive things work better. (introduction of color monitors)
There are many designers, many design schools, who cannot distinguish prettiness from usefulness. Off they go, training their students to make things pleasant: façade design, one of my designer friends calls it (disdainfully, let me emphasize). True beauty in a product has to be more than skin deep, more than a façade. To be truly beautiful, wondrous, and pleasurable, the product has to fulfill a useful function, work well, and be usable and understandable.
In the quest for enhancement of life, let us not be usability bigots. Yes, products must be usable. But all the many factors of design must be in harmony. Marketing considerations must be accounted for, aesthetic appeal, manufacturability — all are important. The products must be affordable, functional, and pleasurable. And above all a pleasure to own, a pleasure to use. After all, attractive things work better.