Norman, Chapter 2

In Chapter 2, Norman switches to a discussion more on the human side of human-technology interactions, exploring the results–short- and long-term–of failed interactions and offering a series of heuristics for minimizing such failures and miscommunications.

Norman considers, from various angles, the many ways that people (creatures designed to make meaning and extrapolate from limited information) can misunderstand information they are presented with or experience, how that information can get processed, and the actions and reactions that result from that processing.  Norman analyzes why and how people blame themselves for failing at certain tasks (involving technology), arguing that this blame is most often misplaced. It should instead be placed on poor design. Related to this scenario are the phenomena of “learned helplessness” and “taught helplessness.”

A more positive analytical model is Norman’s “seven stages of action,” which outlines, simply (and admittedly, only approximately) “How People Do Things” (p. 47). Related to this model are those elements of interaction that Norman sees as disruption these seven stages: the “gulf of execution”–”[t]he difference between the intentions and the allowable actions”–and the “gulf of evaluation”–”the amount of effort that the person must exert to interpret the physical state of the system and to determine how well the expectations and intentions have been met” (p. 51). Strikingly, the author notes, “[t]he gulfs are present to an amazing degree in a variety of devices” (52). Norman argues that designers can use the seven stages of action to help them minimize these gulfs, users’ failures and frustrations, linking them to “the principles of good design” he described in his first chapter: visibility, a good conceptual model, good mappings, and feedback (pp. 52, 53).

One of the questions that stayed with me at the end of this chapter is the following:

  • What exactly does Norman mean by the notion that opportunistic actions “result in…perhaps more interest” (p. 49) than non-opportunistic actions?



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