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Hi! I’m Vicky, A professional ergonomist who spends time in the wilds of the real world

Design of Everyday Things (and me)

Design of Everyday Things (and me)

So, early on in the life of this blog I wanted to talk about one very particular ergonomics book, one which I expect a lot of the human factors specialists who read this will have read.  

Don Norman’s Design of Everyday Things.  

This book has been a huge influence on my thinking as a human factors specialist, and is one of the things that inspired me to start writing Ergonomist in the Wild.

Right from the start of the book, Norman encourages you to think about the everyday challenges you experience interacting with objects - from his namesake Norman Doors  to his detailed breakdown of fridge thermostats and bathroom taps. 

I recently re-read the new and updated edition, and it reminded me about all the things I loved about it the first time round.

  • Encouraging me to consider “why” when something is difficult to use.

  • Giving a simple framework to understand the reasons for that difficulty.

  • Highlighting how we usually blame ourself for making errors rather than questioning the design.

  • Applying psychology principles to everyday situations.

  • Inspiring me to root out good and bad design.

In this post, I wanted to pick out Norman’s framework of six design principles, for two reasons.  First, they are a great simple framework for looking at design usability. Second, I know I am going to come back to these principles many times in future blog posts. 

As Norman says: “When we interact with a product, we need to figure out how to work it” and this “discoverability” arises from the six principles

  1. Affordances - the functions possible with the system.  My fire place affords heat and light, and occasionally - cleaning!

  2. Signifiers - any indicator that informs the user what to do.  This could be as obvious as an emergency exit sign, or as subtle as the symbol used for airports on UK road signs (I love it, and will be blogging about it later).

  3. Mapping - the relationship between any two things, but usually a spatial link between a control and the object being controlled.  Think the light switches I loved in my ergonomist’s review of a hotel room.

  4. Constraints - limitations on what can be done.  Norman describes four types of constraints - physical, cultural, semantic and logical.  These cover a whole range of ways to guide action - from physical square-peg-in-a-round-hole stuff, to cultural norms and things that just makes sense.

  5. Feedback - the way that the system informs the user about what has happened, is currently happening, or is about to happen. Or why I keep clicking buttons on my computer, and end up with five copies of the same file open.

  6. Conceptual models - our internal models that we use to understand how systems work.  Some of them right, some of them wrong, but always working to guide our behaviour.

Through this blog, I hope to pick up on examples of all these areas - when they are done well and help us, and where they trip us up.  As Don Norman says:

“And enjoy yourself.  Walk around the world examining the details of design. Learn how to observe.  Take pride in the little things that help”

“If you have difficulties, remember its not your fault: it’s bad design.  Give prizes to those who practice good designs: send flowers.  Jeer those who don’t: Send weeds”

Think of this blog as a bunch of flower and a handful of weeds! 

Almost perfect - Ergonomic design for toddlers on the move

Almost perfect - Ergonomic design for toddlers on the move

Where there's a will... Wayfinding in car parks

Where there's a will... Wayfinding in car parks