“Attractive Things Work Better,” Ch. 1 Emotional Design by Donald A. Norman
Norman discusses why attractive design might improve usability. The answer lies in our emotional response to design. Norman writes, “Emotions, we now know, change the way the human mind solves problems—the emotional system changes how the cognitive system operates” (1). Anxiety, fear, and other negative emotions cause people to narrow their focus, while positive feelings have the opposite effect—they expand the mind to new, innovative ways of thinking (2, 6).
The potential emotional state of a user is a critical component of design. As Norman writes, “Designers can get away with more if the product is fun and enjoyable. Things intended to be used under stressful situations require a lot more care, with much more attention to detail” (6-7).
Norman doesn’t discuss what qualifies as attractive design. He uses the term as if it is an obvious and objective concept. Attractiveness seems inherently subjective, so I would be interested to know how Norman defines the term.
“The Psychopathology of Everyday Things,” Ch. 1 The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman
Norman outlines the components of user-friendly design. He stresses “the importance of visibility, appropriate clues, and feedback of one’s actions” (8-9). Straightforward, easy-to-use design is a fairly obvious goal, but its implementation is often far from obvious. I was particularly struck by Norman’s suggestion that “[w]henever the number of possible actions exceeds the number of controls, there is apt to be difficulty” (22). I think many people equate good design with minimalism—the fewer controls the better. But Norman suggests that a dedicated control for each functionality actually simplifies design.
“The principle of feedback” (27) is an especially important idea. The user should know, “what action has taken place, what result has been accomplished” (27). A design fails if a user if left in doubt. This principle ties in nicely with Norman’s discussion of conceptual models. There are three distinct models of an object: the designer’s model, the user’s model, and the system’s model (or the object’s physical interface). Ultimately, the user’s model, the user’s conceptual idea of an object, is paramount. An object may have all the functionality in the world, but if that functionality doesn’t become part of the user’s model, it’s useless. An operational control that doesn’t give feedback to a user is no better than a broken control.
Ambiguous door hardware is a pet peeve of mine, so I was particularly gratified to read Norman’s door discussion. The operation of a door, Norman writes, should be made explicit “by the design, without any need for words or symbols, certainly without any need for trial and error” (3). Preaching to the choir!