I agree with the ideas presented in both of Donald Norman’s readings (Chapter 1 of “Design of Everyday Things” and the essay ‘Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better’) this week.
For this week we were supposed to watch people interacting with technology. Prior to looking at the readings i was going to talk about cars because, as Norman explains, cars are designed to be easy to use and intuitive, especially in situations where split second decisions could be a matter of life or death. I also wanted to look at cars because people bond with their cars in a way that does not happen with an ATM or a Metrocard kiosk.
Psychologically the car becomes an extension of one’s body. From my observations driver’s and pedestrian’s actions are not that much different. Both navigate the physical world in a manner that reflects their affect. Like pedestrians on a busy street we see rushed drivers weaving in and out of traffic, nervous tourists making inching about in all directions, careless people, and overly cautious people. When we are in an accident or if the car breaks down it can be a traumatic experience or a manageable one. A scrape on the knee versus a hospital visit. The design of the car encourages different levels of familiarity parallel to the human body, from the immediate (feet and pedals for movement) to the more complex (internal organs and engines). And the appearance of a vehicle is another presentation of ones style or personality, not unlike clothes or hairstyles.
However after readings I found myself thinking more about our emotional relationship to maps. Our previous reading would call a map one of the lowest levels of interaction because it merely provides information without processing any feedback. This lack of feed back is also probably the main source of frustration with the NY City subway map. It shows the complicated network of intersecting lines but when delays or changes happen there is rarely a way for riders to know what is going on just by looking at the map. The subway also has many service nuances that can be listed on the bottom of the map, but is often not understood or misunderstood until the rider experiences the service first hand. The map in the station (or on the train) often acts like a hub for people to ask each other questions. Standing in front of the map, disoriented, people will many times just turn to someone and ask for directions.
But this got me thinking about google maps and why they are so popular and useful. I think the main reason is because it is a resource with infinite information, but it is designed so that you can go into a simple interface and retrieve only what you want (which of course would be impossible with a static map like the subway). This got me thinking about customization.
Many of the examples of bad design that Norman gave were bad because the designer either had trouble understanding the needs of the user or the designer tried to create something that was too universal and accommodated the needs of every possible user. So would it be better if each user could easily design their own products to fit their needs. Is there a more customizable or even a DIY Model for our everyday products?
I guess this is another consideration for the designer. Instead of just throwing new features on a product is there a way to make the product easier to customize. Is there a way that someone who wants a button for popcorn, frozen pizza, and a turkey sandwich on their microwave can have that, while the same product could just easily be stripped down to starting and stopping a timer? I have no answer, but i think designers should also consider a consumer’s need for the feeling of choice and agency, and the value of making those options clear and functional as well as the primary operations of any given product.