Design Analysis of Everyday Objects

Choose two objects that you use every day (you cannot pick mobile phones or laptop/computer) and analyze their design using the principles described in Chapter 1 of The Design of Everyday Things. Imagine describing what the object is and what it’s designed to do to someone who has never seen it before. Is it intuitive or frustrating?


First Object: My Glasses

Glasses are basically a pair of lenses set in a frame. This frame rests on the nose and ears to mainly be used to correct or assist defective eyesight. While prescription glasses, such as the one shown below, can be used indefinitely or while doing certain set of activities (ex. reading); there are also glasses which are used as protection against sun, sportswear, etc.


Glasses like these are for support of eyesight, therefore it affords corrected eyesight. At the same time, the prevention of interaction (blockage) and the need for cleanliness can be considered as an anti-affordance for glasses. An example of possible action related to this case could be the need to clean the glasses after a rainfall as glasses pick up the rain drops unlike our eyes.

The shape of the glasses is so specific that it is very straightforward to understand where it goes. The bridge and the earpieces can be regarded as great indicators to where it should go. The two lenses that resemble the eyes along with the long temples that connect to these earpieces in the end, actually fit the shape of the human face. The design is thus a great signifier that communicates the appropriate usage.

There aren’t any possible set of operations to perform with this object apart from its main purpose – to sit on your nose to make you see better. The mapping of the shape and where it should rest is signified through the aforementioned physical characteristics.

While there is no digital need for feedback for this artifact due to its simple design, the shape sort of gives feedback on where it should be placed. If not used correctly the glasses would fall down, be not comfortable, not feel right, etc. But this can again be related to the signifier nature of the shape – on what to do and where to do.

It is highly probable that people hold a similar mental model (have similar opinion on how to use) on this object as the glasses we know and use like the one above has been present since the 1730’s. The effective use of affordances, signifiers and constraints makes the conceptual map of this object an obvious one, making it very intuitive to use.


Second Object: My Travel Adapter

Travel adapter is an additional plug used to connect electrical equipment brought from one country to the existing electricity supply in another one. This kind of adapters are mainly used when travelling as there is no universal-direct connection for wall outlets. The plugs on the front side of the adapter enables usage of electronical equipment from many countries as there are a lot of variations present; whereas the back side belongs/fits to the wall outlet of the country it was purchased from – which is Singapore in this case.

A travel adapter affords use of electrical equipment in a different country with different electrical supply outlet. Many times, it is more advantageous (mainly cheaper) to buy an adapter of this kind rather than buying new equipment specific to that country from scratch.

The design of the back-part of the adaptor is very much intuitive and signifies where it should go, how it should be used. It is probably very much obvious for locals to now this kind of plug-socket connection, as they are used to it for any electrical devices they own and use in here. It can also be regarded as an easy-to-understand mechanic for any foreign/visiting electrical device owners as the one big protrusion on this side signifies that it should be used as a plug.

Yet the front part of this adapter has a frustrating design. Apart from the fact that there aren’t any signifiers to guide how or more specifically which orientation your plug goes into the adapter, it is also very loosely designed. Loosely designed meaning that the plug on my electrical devices (round-prong European-style plugs) can fit in these holes both vertically and horizontally. While the non-existence of any signifiers does not prevent one from finding the appropriate usage, the trial/error side of this artifact reminds me of a Norman door.

The aforementioned holes can be regarded as constraints of this artifact, as there is a specific way to connect your device yet there are many variations. As the operation is sensitive to plug placement, wrong orientation prevents usage. So, while the possible set of actions are visible for this device; the lack of signifiers and natural mapping causes a disconnection between actions and intended results for first time users. As frustrating as it is, the simplicity of the action still enables everyday usage after first trial/error or by learning through repetition.

The lack of feedback is another frustrating part of this design as it is not possible to understand whether the device is connected/working safely or not. An addition of blinking green light (yes not aesthetic but at least functional) would suffice, to at least have a better usage experience regarding this device. It would also aid in figuring out the reason of any problems regarding electrical connections in sockets/plugs/cables.

Conceptual models of this adapter can be found in its technical manuals. Yet the visual simplicity of the artifact may lead the user to not look at it all. It is probable that there is a consensus on the mental model of this adapter due to its simple affordance. Yet, at the same time the lack of signifiers and not-intuitive design may cause conflicts and frustration regarding usage and experience for some.

1 comment

  1. A good effort to apply the concepts in the readings to your everyday objects.  Affordances can be sometime tricky to understand but it’s basically the perceived properties of a thing.  In the case of your glasses, their affordances are not so much about improving sight as they are about how to wear them – how the object’s design shows how it may be used.

Leave a Reply