This year I got myself into a challenge of reading 52 books before the end of the year. So from time to time, you’ll find a book summary on Deesignre.
In this article, I will give a summary of the book “The design of everyday things” by Don Norman. It’s about why we should blame the designers when users make mistakes.
Blame the designer and examples of bad design
When a user does not understand a product, he often blames himself and becomes insecure about his own capabilities. This is obviously something we want to avoid.
Another example is the stove in your kitchen, which probably has 4 or 5 buttons to control which stove turns on. See the image below for an example. it’s really unclear whether the 1st button turns on the bottom left or top left pit. This problem is caused by bad mapping, which I will go over later on. Again: bad design.
How to solve bad design
Don Norman continues his book by going into several concepts. Affordances, signifiers, mapping and constraints. And explains that a good product has all four.
Affordances: It is clear what can be done with the product. For most doors, it’s clear that you can open it. Example: giving a button depth in your design, makes it clear WHAT can be done with the button: you can click it.
Signifiers: How can one use the door. There is often a handle, but it’s unclear whether to push it or to pull. Note here that the signifier actually signifies HOW something works. Most people call this an affordance, but an affordance is only about what can be done with a product, not how. Example: the circular button on my radio makes it clear HOW I should use it (turning).
Mapping: Placing object close to each other when they belong together. When a button changes a certain state in your design, place them close to each other. A famous offline example is a stove we talked about before, where there are 4 pits to cook on, and 4 controls to operate them. But people rarely know which controller belongs to which pit/stove. The buttons are not placed close to the actual pit, which makes sense because it’s easy to control all pits from one place.
Constraints: People should be able to reason with common sense what can and can’t be done with the product. For example, it’s clear that a door cannot be lifted upwards and pushed downwards because of the way it’s designed.
The 7 steps of action to goal
The 7 steps of action to goal describe the 7 steps a user takes when taking an action on your website.
To bridge the gap of execution
- Goal: The has a certain goal, something he want’s to achieve. Example: I want to continue reading when it gets dark.
- Plan: The user plans how to achieve a goal. Example: I could sit somewhere else or I could turn on the light.
- Specify: The user specifies his plan into actions. Example: “How am going to turn on the lights by lifting my arm and clicking the button”.
- Perform: The user performs the action. Example: He actually clicks the light button.
To bridge the gap of evaluation
- Perceive: He perceives feedback, he visually sees something happen. Example: He sees the light turning on. Note here that he does not yet interpret it, he just perceives it, meaning he gives no meaning or further thought to the light being turned on.
- Interpret: He interprets this feedback. Compared to perceiving, this actually requires brain-power. What does the result mean to the user? Example: “Okay great I have light now to read”.
- Compare: He compares it to what he expected or what he has seen before. Is there enough light now?
Behavioural vs reflective & visceral memories
Behavioural memories are about how usable the product was. If we have a positive visceral response (how something visually looks) but disappointing usability problems at the behavioural level, the overall rating of the product will still be positive. (hence the phrase: “Attractive things work better”. They tested this with research and thus good to know for designers trying to convince their clients to choose beauty.
The second part of the book is about how to achieve products that work. For me, this seemed like a different book entirely and was pretty basic and nothing new to be honest. The most interesting part for me the first part, about why we should blame designers and not the users. And the 7 steps of actions to goal will definitely help you to create better interfaces, just think about each of the 7 steps when creating an interaction.
Definitely a great book, and you can find it here: The Design of Everyday Thing.