UX Thoughts: The Design of Everyday Things

Donald Norman’s first chapter of The Design of Everyday Things made me realize how difficult it is to explain design to someone. He has taken an idea that is at the center of design — the user experience — and analyzed its parts in a way that almost becomes scientific or mathematical. The way he describes affordances, signifiers and feedback in relation to machines and relationships reminded me of input and output in mathematical functions and the cause and effect of physics. When analyzed, the design process is quite complex — or at least it should be for a good design — but it is interesting to me how good design seems so simple, so “easy” or “obvious” of an answer. This directly corresponds with how it is easier to spot design that has flaws or is poorly designed.

Reading this chapter also put into context the value of “communication design” which in this case is the design thinking that when put into use communicates the object or service’s intended use. Without this communication, Norman states “the whole purpose of the design is lost”. On the other hand, his depiction of communication in terms of signifiers and perceived affordances made me question the boundaries of communication design. I’ve been taught thus far that industrial designers deal with the physical design of forms but if physical traits become communication tools to signal the way in which to use something, then is that not communication design? The lines between design fields has always seemed to blur, maybe because good design requires multi-disciplinary teams as Norman talks about. Yet, this reading prompted me to question the naming conventions of design disciplines more than I have in the past and seemed to open doors to what “communication design” might become for me in my future career.


1. Is there a better term for conceptual model? This part of the analysis confused me but seemed to relate to user testing and how people perceive connections and relationships and thus have certain expectations. Norman says “A good conceptual model allows us to predict the efforts of our actions” but this sounds quite vague because each person has their own predictions or expectations for an outcome. The only way to solve this would be user testing which would result in more concrete results than a “conceptual” model.

2. Does smarter technology increase or decrease interactivity? Technology can now react in more ways than one so that input A may result in output B, C or D etc. There still seems to be some concrete formula though in the results or feedback of a design because machinery and objects cannot understand emotions, thoughts, or body language like human to human interaction can. The article made me question if there is “less” of a user experience in technology that is “less interactive” because technology might be able to read environmental cues and such.

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