in Reading Responses

Reading Response 1: ‘The Design of Everyday Things: Chapter 1’ by Don Norman

Don Norman highlights the importance of human-centered design where the role of the designer is to ensure that the design matches the needs and capabilities of the people for whom they are intended for. He also mentions that in order for a design to be considered good, it needs to fulfill two characteristics – discoverability (actions that can be performed and how they could be performed) and understanding (the meaning that goes into specifying its physical attributes). He further branches out into five fundamental concepts to achieve a design’s discoverability – affordances, signifiers, constraints, mapping and feedback.

Taking the glass door next to the ADM General Office as an example, it shows how the lack in fulfilling the five fundamental concepts may result in a not-so-successful design. Students, faculty members, other ADM staff, and guests may have struggled with using this glass door. It is a two-way entry towards the ADM Lift Lobby and towards the ADM Library. The flaw in its design lies in the plight of figuring whether one should push or pull the door in order to open it. There are metal handles on both sides of the transparent door, a clear signifier that the door could be pushed or pulled from either sides. However, there is a magnetic stopper at the top that only allows for a single-direction application of force. This could be seen as a design constraint but since it is placed at the very top and almost not visible at eye level, even from a distance, it does not act as a clear indicator that the door is not supposed to be pushed from the lobby’s side. Therefore, the design failed in giving instinctive cues to the user to limit the set of possible actions. I find myself repeatedly applying wrongful force to the door even with frequent usage of it.

Another characteristic that the designers of the door missed out on is the understanding of its design. There is no symbols or signs to take the role of a conceptual model on the proper use of the door. I realised that with a simple addition of a signage to the door, it could have compensated for the lack of obvious indicators in its design. This brings me to consider: If a design is lacking in one or more of the five fundamental concepts in discoverability, can they be compensated with its understanding – a manual or an appropriate signage?