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Book: Design of Everyday Things

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meta warned me that when I read The Design of Everyday Things, I would learn very little. This is a compliment to the book, rather than a criticism. We both worked at PARC at the time and much of what is in the book is ingrained within the PARC culture. Thus, to say that I would learn very little is to say how influential the ideas of this book are. According to the Director of User Experience at TiVo, the book is somewhat of a bible. You'll find my own attempt at being Norman in "Affordances of a Seven-Foot Egg."

Another compliment I will pay this book is, in retrospect, the ideas presented seem like commonsense. As Norman dissects bad doors and light switch arrangements, the criticisms are intuitive, yet we must wonder, if this truly was commonsense, why is it so easy to find examples of bad design in everyday things? It's not hard to find a doors with "push" or "pull" signs taped on because the wrong type of handle was used. It's not hard to remember being confronted with an array of light switches and not knowing which light went with which. Sometimes the explanation is that someone was being cheap. Or lazy. But we also see simple principles violated in expensive, intensively designed products like airplanes and cars. Bad design comes with any price tag.

The most valuable aspect of the book for me is that it provides a vocabulary for being more specific about evaluating design. Norman once said something akin to, if it has poor usability, it probably got a design award. We don't do a good job separating out aesthetics and usability when we use the term design. The iPod is cited again and again as an example of "good design," but there are many usability problems. It's mappings are poor: press the center button and the next menu scrolls in from the right; press up and the previous menu scrolls in from the left; pressing left or right changes the track that's playing; rotating the scrollwheel wheel moves a linear menu up and down. The visibility is also poor: two weeks ago I taught two long-time iPod users that you can fast-forward/rewind, rate songs, and view album art if you press the center button while a song is playing.

I look forward to reading Norman's Emotional Design. I'm sure it will provide a vocabulary for discussing the good aspects of the iPod design, and then at last I can make my $billions.

Partial/ongoing notes in the extended.

visibility (p.4): "The correct parts must be visible, and they must convey the correct message. With doors that push, the designer must provide signals that naturally indicate where to push."

natural design (p.4): The use of natural signals in design. Natural signals include putting a plate on the side of the door you are supposed to push, or making the support pillar of a door visible.

affordance (p.9): the perceived and actual properties of a thing, primarily those fundamental properties that determine just how the thing could possible be used.

design model (p.10): The design model is the designer's conceptual model
user's model (p.10: The user's model is the mental model developed through interaction with the system.
system image (p.10): The system image results from the physical structure that has been built.

"The designer expects the user's model to be identical to the design model. But the designer doesn't talk directly with the user--all communication takes place through the system image."

mapping (p.23): relationship between two things.

Natural mapping, by which I mean taking advantage of physical analogies and cultural standards, leads to immediate understanding. For example, a designer can use spatial analogy: to move an object up, move the control up. To control an array of lights, arrange the controls in the same pattern as the lights. Some natural mappings are cultural or biological, as in the universal standard that a rising level represents more, a diminishing level, less. Similarly, a louder sound can mean a greater amount. Amount and loudness (and weight, line length, and brightness) are additive dimensions: add more to show incremental increases. Note that the logically plausible relationship between musical pitch and amount does not work: Would a higher pitch mean less or more of something? Pitch (and taste, color, and location) are substitutive dimensions: substitute one value for another to make a change. There is no natural concept of more or less in the comparison of different pitches, or hues, or taste qualities.

Seven stages of action (approximate model, p.48): 1. Forming the goal 2. Forming the intention 3. Specifying an action 4. Executing the action 5. Perceiving the state of the world 6. Interpreting the state of the world 7. Evaluating the outcome

Gulf of Execution (p.51): "Do the actions provided by the system match those intended by the person?"

How easily can one (p. 53): * Determine the function of the device * Tell what actions are possible * Determine mapping from intention to physical movement * Perform the action * Tell if the system is in the desired state * Determine mapping from system state to interpretation * Tell what state the system is in

Principles of good design (p.52) * visibility * a good conceptual model, with consistency in the presentation of operations and results and a coherent, consistent system image * good mappings: actions -> results, controls -> effects, state state -> what is visible * Feedback: user receives continuous feedback

Chapter two

Precise behavior can emerge from imprecise knowledge for four reasons:

  1. Information is in the world (e.g. letters on a keyboard)
  2. Great precision is not required. Failure examples: introduction of the Susan B. Anthony coin, the 10-franc coin.
  3. Natural constraints are present
  4. Cultural constraints are present

constraints: rhyming in songs, turning things clockwise to tighten, etc...

p. 86

Next time you are in an elevator, stand facing the rear. Look at the strangers in the elevator and smile. Or scowl. Or say hello. Or say, "Are you feeling well? You don't look well." Walk up to random passerby and give them some money. Say something like, "You make me feel good, so here is some money. In a bus or streetcar, give your seat to the next athletic-looking teenager you see. The act is especially effective if you are elderly or pregnant.

p. 66

There is often a logic involved in the choice of unlikely places. For example, a friend of ours was required by her insurance company to acquire a safe is she wished to insure her valuable gems. Recognizing that she might forget the combination to the safe, she thought carefully about where to keep the combination. Her solution was to write it in her personal phone directory under the letter S next to 'Mr. and Mrs. Safe,' as if it were a telephone number. There is a clear logic here: Store numerical information with other numerical information. She was appalled, however, when she heard a reformed burglar on a daytime television talk show say that upon encountering a safe, he always headed for the phone directory because many people keep the combination there.

p. 68

Rote learning creates problems. First, because what is being learned is arbitrary, the learning difficult: it can take considerable effort. Second, when a problem arises, the memorized sequence of actions gives no hint of what has gone wrong, no suggestions of what might be done to fix the problem.

p. 78

If a design depends upon labels, it may be fault. Labels are important and often necessary, but the appropriate use of natural mappings can minimize the need for them. Wherever labels seems necessary consider another design.

Tradeoff between knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head (table, p.79). Knowledge in the world is often less aesthetic but has higher ease of use at first encounter. Knowledge in the head requires learning and searching your memory, knowledge in the world requires interpretation.

p. 69: example of learning a motorcycle turn indicator that moved forward/back

Chapter Four

Problems with switches

p. 94: set the switches for one set of functions apart from the switches that control other functions. Another solution is to use different types of switches... Also use shape coding: a tire-shaped switch can control the landing gear, and the flap switch can be a long, thing rectangle...

Making the visible invisible

The principle of visibility is violated over and over again in everyday things. In numerous designs crucial parts are carefully hidden away. Handles on cabinets distract from some design aesthetics, and so they are deliberately made invisible or let out. The cracks that signify the existence of a door can also distract from the pure lines of the design so these significant cues are often minimized ore eliminated...

A design philosophy * Put the required knowledge in the world. Don't require all the knowledge to be in the head. Yet do allow for more efficient operation when the user has learned the operations, has gotten the knowledge in the head. * Use the power of natural and artificial constraints: physical, logical, semantic, and cultural. Use forcing functions and natural mappings. * Narrow the gulfs of execution and evaluation. Make things visible, both for execution and evaluation. On the execution side, make the options readily available. On the evaluation side, make the results of each action apparent. Make it possible to determine the system state readily, easily, and accurately, and in a form consistent with the person's goals, intentions, and expectations.

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This page contains a single entry from kwc blog posted on January 2, 2006 5:33 PM.

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