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?



Norman, Chapter 1, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things”

In Chapter 1 Norman, through a series of real-world examples (a number from instances in his own life), makes some compelling arguments for good and bad design.  A faithful skeptic both of technology and “everyday things,” Norman places the burden of modern/contemporary (industrialized) society’s failures and frustrations with these things largely with poor design. (Though not necessarily, it should be noted, specifically with designers themselves, who, he notes, have a great number of competing and often forces looking to shape their work–from manufacturers to retailers to consumers).

One of Norman’s main points is that “one of the most important principles to design [is] visibility. The correct parts must be visible, and they must convey the correct message” (p. 4). He also places a great deal of value and importance on design elements of any given object having “natural signals, naturally interpreted, without any need to be conscious of them” (p. 4). Another element is the “mappings between what you want to do and what appears to be possible” with a given object (p. 4). These three concepts are substantially interrelated. For example, Norman notes, “[v]isibility indicates the mapping between intended actions and actual operations” (p. 8).

Norman summarizes the “fundamental principles of designing for people” as “(1.) provide a good conceptual model and (2) make things visible: (p. 13)”. Good conceptual model are comprised of a successful integration of the design model, “the designer’s conceptual model”; the user’s model, “ the mental model developed through interaction with the system,” and the system image, which “results from the physical structure that has been built (including documentation, instructions, and labels)” (p. 17).

One of the things that struck me when reading this chapter was the sheer number of man-hours lost on a daily basis, all around the world, to things like poorly designed doors/gateways, appliances, etc. (Even if someone has calculated it, I’m not sure that I’d want to see it.) I was also struck by some of the similarities between bad design and bad grammar–both lead to poor and inefficient communication, lost time, frustration, etc.

Naturally“Naturally” (Selena Gomez & the Scene song) – “Naturally” is a song performed by American band Selena Gomez & the Scene from their debut album, Kiss & Tell.