Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Design Challenge

All design involves rigorous testing in the environment where it is most applicable. Design needs to be beta-tested until as many, or ideally all, of the bugs and problem areas are found and fixed. Specific and meticulous testing results in good design, and design that won't have problems in the future. Like Katherine has said many times in class about website design, the best design features shouldn't be noticeable, they become noticeable once the design is broken and technology has failed in one way or another.

This chapter of Norman goes in depth with the design of what is now the modern day keyboard. Design choices that one could say have nearly replaced the pen and pencil when we write. The keyboard layout was designed by CHarles Latham Sholes in the 1870's. Something as common as the "shift" key today took years to develop on type writers. The amount of time and energy that went into producing a valuable design was well worth it, and today there are many many keyboards in nearly every home in America.

Later on in the chapter I was most interested in Normans views of design and aesthetics. He said "If everyday design were rules by aesthetics, life might be more pleasing to the eye, but less comfortable; if ruled by usability it might become more comfortable but uglier. If cost or ease of manufacture dominated, products might not be attractive, functional, or durable." I found this very interesting, because as a good design it's the amount and balance of all of those parameters that confine ones ability. When working with a budget, or for a particular style, one must use what they are given to achieve a necessary result. There are clearly designers that sway more towards the visual side of design than usability, but thats why there those design who make ugly, but practical products.


Human is the ultimate go to excuse for slips and fumbles during our daily lives. It's not just an easy way out of situations though, it's how were are. Human's weren't built to have errors, but compared to computers who are either right or wrong, it's human nature to be perfect.

The most common of these errors are slips; one would expect a certain result, but accidentally get it mixed up with a similar activity. For example, Norman explained how he was counting pages and counted "1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King, ace." He had been playing cards recently.

Norman also brings up the interest topic of error detection. While it's obvious for the most part if someone slips or not "detection can only take place if there is feed back." In some cases, it is easy to discover that something is wrong, but hard to discover exactly what. In cases like this, often anticipating the result can lead to solving the problem, but sometimes the errors are to far out to make any connection.

A seemingly common important error happens with human interaction with machine; computers primarily. A hundred times a day, a little window will pop up asking "Are you sure you want to delete this file?" or something along those lines. More often than not, you do actually want to delete the file, I have gotten so used to just hitting enter or clicking without reading, that I often deleted files I have not meant to. Although this might same kind of drastic, especially because computers work in 1's and 0's the result should be absolute, but computer were designed with error in hand and almost always you can get a file back. Whether it be in the computer's trash can, or saved on another hard drive.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Using Sound for Visability

Designers always seem to be trying to get the user's attention in as many unique and creative ways as possible. Clearly (GET IT?) the most common way is by visual reference. Layouts and control panels are designed and most uses and functions are learned by purely visual contact.

The second most common reference for control and affordable is sound. Sound is most strongly used for warnings and instant messages. Sound is a great aid in affordance because it can be sensed even when attention is elsewhere. This is effective with warnings primarily. Alarms and dings grab attention when it is most long as they aren't used too often, then alls well.

Natural sounds (or sounds that make sense with functions) work most strongly when paired with other stimulus. For example, the iPod scroll where utilized the simple clicking signifying that the wheel is being turned.

This small addition to spinning a wheel makes the contact feel so much more tangible. For some reason, our mind connects the sound to the movement and the speed and volume the clicking helps aid to the scrolling of the wheel. It's a simple, but effective design note.


I knew that the mind was a fragile thing, and I've always been curious about how memory works and why it works. Norman explains in detail the differences and functions comparing short term memory (STM) and long term memory (LTM).

Short term memory is what helps us function on a day to day basis. It helps us remember people names, and where we are, and how do nearly everything that we don't directly think about. It is a problem when elderly people begin to loose their STM because they can often become very confused or forget where they are or where they are going.

Long term memory is memory that is stored for a longer period of time, like our interpretations of our experiences. Norman continues to explain that LTM is strictly based on how the information was perceived to begin with, and this greatly effects ones ability to recall memories and information.

Another key function of memory is reminders. The act of reminding (or as psychologists call it, rehearsal) is a key feature to both long and short term memory. Norman explains that big events usually don't need cues to remember, because you will naturally remind yourself of an up coming event just because of it's importance. Although other smaller details, while maybe important, still need reminders so one doesn't forget. Norman goes one about reminders and needing both signals and messages. He explains one bad example of tying a knot in a handkerchief. This is a signal, but if the message is forgotten the signal is useless. My father would always stick a bit of tape on his watch if he needed to remember to do something. He would never write anything on the tape, just having something unnatural in front of him was enough for him to remember what important task he was supposed to do. There have been too many cases when I've given myself clues on what I need to do, but not quite enough information to complete a task, so this method does not work for me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009 is a website dedicated to helping the environment stay as clean and healthy as possible. The sites name comes from the simple basis of 'flicking off,' as in a light switch. While the idea is environmentally friendly and easy enough that anyone could do it, their execution is not.

It's clear to see the font choice of the logo is supposed to make viewers second guess themselves. While they did a fantastic job of making 'flick' look like another similar word (whether or not it was their intention) it doesn't really help their goals of becoming a power efficient, environmentally conscious company. Their whole deal is 'abrasiveness AND trees!' and I don't it works or appeals to any audience. This is a vast generalization, but I don't think people who would buy a bumper sticker that says 'flick off' because it looks like it means something else really care about the environment.

Learned Helplessness

One point that Norman hits directly on the head is his idea about 'learned helplessness'. He explains this phenomenon in such a way that clearly and justly proves and defines the event.

I was especially drawn to where he says "It seems natural for people to blame their own misfortunes on the environment. It seems equally natural to blame other people's misfortunes on their personalities. Just the opposite attribution, bu the way, is made when things go well. When things go right, people credit their own forceful personalities and intelligence: "I really did a good job today' no wonder we finished the project so well."" This example is something you see everyday. It's a characteristic of humans that is so common we think it makes sense...while in fact it is actually an irrational and often irritating statement. I, for one, can't stand people who push blame around and don't swallow their pride and take what they deserve. While usually this kind of helplessness and blame-pushing is about trivial matters, it's still unnecessary to blame a piece of hardware for the users incompetence. It is even more aggravating when that same user will pat themselves on the back when they finally figure out how to work the thing that has been giving them so much trouble. It's no wonder that Norman concludes with "In all cases, whether a person is inappropriately accepting blame for the inability to work simple objects or attributing behavior to environment or personality, a faulty mental model is at work."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Power Plugs and Sockets

Sockets and power plugs are so common and used so often everyday that we hardly think about the design or functionality of them. Back when electricity was new and these products had to be designed the problem was coming up with a simple to use universal way that all similar objects to gain power from a source in a safe manner. That solution was the socket and plug. A solution that minimizes danger, and maximizes simplicity.

Is the design of power plugs and sockets perfect? NO. Is it the best it can be? Maybe.

There are many problems with power plugs and sockets. Plugs in the United States have two parallel flat prongs that protrude out and sometimes a third large grounding prong below. Sockets have to vertical slots and sometime that third hole below. Looks simple enough.

After the fact comes the problems. One not all plugs have that third grounding prong which is much safer if included, and not all sockets have a third hole for that prong to fit. Sockets only have two places for plugs to fit in two, which wasn't a problem a couple of decades ago...but now since our entire lives are basically run by electricity this becomes quite a problem. Thus extension cords and surge protectors were invited eliminating the problem! Nope, still not quite enough sockets for all of the plugs I have running off off my desk and I hardly think I'm the only person with this problem.

Now that we have two many plugs and not enough sockets, lets simplify the whole process and add different power sources. For example, my new-fancy-energy-efficient IKEA lamp has a cord that runs out of the light that ends with some strange plug which connects to some sort of a converter box. Out of that converter box runs another cable that has the stand Type A plug on the end that I can plug into my already overly crowded surge protector.

My favorite is the generic cell phone chargers that have a huge box at the end of the wire that take up the space of about three plugs on a surge protector. Thankfully, someone has already solved this problem.

I won't even bother explaining the problems with trying to plug in my cell charger while traveling overseas...


Sockets and plugs are a very necessary part of our everyday lives and they are only going to become more so our technology advances further. It's unfortunate that such a simple item has the troubles it does, but like most products, if there is a way to use it wrong, humans will find that way. You can thank Murphy for that one.

Affordances - Gibson/Norman

Donald A. Norman is a professor and author of many books that deal primarily with usability and cognitive psychology.

James J. Gibson was an American psychologist who is considered one of the most important scientist to deal with visual perception.

Both of these psychologists have similar but specifically different views about affordances are. Gibson believes that affordances are governed by three laws. One, An affordance Exists relative to the action capabilities of a particular actor. Two, The existence of an affordance is independent of the actors ability to perceive it. Three, An affordance does not chance as the needs and goals of the actor change. Norman thinks that an affordance refers directly to the core features of an object. "I believe that affordances result from the mental interpretation of things, based on our past knowledge and experience applied to our perception of the things about us." Norman does not address an 'actor' at all in his view on affordances.

I was confused with all of the laws and different aspects of affordances, but when the article gave examples it became much more clear what Norman and Gibson were talking about. While Norman keeps his definition of an affordance simple, I feel as though Gibson's ideas about it make more sense. I felt that his ideas about nested affordances keep things in line. It's a simple way of branching out and categorizing different types of affordances without getting too specific right off the bat.

I was really interested in the example given about sitting in a chair. Using Norman's way of thinking about affordances he says the chair affords support, therefore affords sitting. It's kind of a backwards way of thinking about it, but it makes sense.

The Design of Everyday Things - Donald A. Norman
Affordances: Clarifying and Evolving a Concept - Joanna McGrenere