Sunday, September 13, 2009

Learning Log IV: The Design of Chapter Two of "The Design of Everyday Things"

The second chapter of Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things disappointed me. With the developments made in this chapter he is starting to violate some of his key principles. Remember that almost anything is an interface if it is a surface that facilitates communication between two bodies or planes. If this is the case, why not discuss a book as an interface?

In chapter 1, Norman discusses the problems that arise when a design becomes “unnatural and complicated”, but he introduces so many terms for the smallest things that I can’t help but wonder if his book will fall down the same doomed path as so many of the appliances he discusses. These terms are clear and helpful when taken individually, but as part of a broad chapter they start to become forgettable. Of course, this is all speculative, but look at how many concepts are introduced in this chapter:

-learned helplessness
-taught helplessness
-Action Cycle
-Stages of Execution
-Stages of Evaluation
-Seven Stages of Action
-Gulf of Execution
-Gulf of Evaluation

Not wanting to leave anything out, Norman even focuses for a bit on Aristotelian physics, and that’s one of the more effective passages of the chapter. Using common misconceptions in comparison to a scientist’s strict view was a great way to make the human condition clearer in relation to using an interface (Norman 36-37).

I was able to understand Norman’s points individually, but taken together as a whole chapter it reads as an intelligent man going off on numerous tangents. Perhaps this frustration arises as a result of my pragmatic and blunt attitude, but Norman himself states that one of the most important aspects of design is the conceptual model (52-53). His conceptual model in this chapter is that explaining all of these separate ideas will help us understand how we act in relation to interfaces, but Norman goes a bit too far off the deep end to neatly tie these ideas back together.

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