[Response] The Design of Everyday Things

In the first chapter, Norman introduces us to the concept of Human-Centred Design (HCD), as well as two of the most important characteristics of good design — discoverability and understanding, and the six fundamental psychological concepts that discoverability encompasses: affordances, signifiers, constraints, mappings, feedback, and conceptual model.

With each of the psychological concepts, Norman uses relatable everyday examples to illustrate them, hence providing for easy understanding. At the very basic, I could understand mappings and feedback well, it is just affordance, signifier, and conceptual model I have a harder time grasping. Hence, I will be focussing more on these three in my response.

The easiest way for me to understand this is that affordances, signifiers, constraints, mappings, and feedback all culminates in the conceptual model (please do correct me if I am wrong!) Of which, signifier is the signalling component of affordances.

To understand what Norman has said about affordance, I relate it to an example of my own. Affordance is a relationship. A purpose. Not a property of a design. As a good designer, we need to take into consideration the right affordances for the right target users (i.e. can the target user use it?) For example, a toy. The purpose of a toy is to be played with. It could be played with by adults, or by kids. However, if a toy designed for toddlers comes with small detachable parts, it may not be according the right affordances. This is because toddlers have the tendency to put objects they are holding into their mouths, hence making the small detachable parts a smoking hazard.

I find that designs these days seems to have a common problem — the lack of signifiers. We are observing a trend whereby designs are getting more and more minimalistic and stripped down to the basics. However, perhaps it is this very same need for the aesthetics of designs to be minimal that are causing important signifiers to be discounted.

One recent example is an experience I had while attending a workshop at the Apple store. I was seated at a long wooden table, and while waiting for other participants to arrive, the workshop conductor began to demonstrate one of the main function of the table — a hidden row of electrical outlets. Now, I have no problem with it being hidden as this function does help to declutter the table. It is how to reveal it that I had a problem with. Users were supposed to tap or hover their hand around the sensor zone to lift the cover up. However, had the conductor not demonstrated, nobody could have possibly figured out how it works because there was no indication on the table to allow users to know what to do with it or where the sensor zone is. Simply put, this additional function is not intuitive at all. In addition, the sensor zone was also very slow to pick up signals. One could be hovering over it or tapping around it for more than 10 seconds and it would still require a stroke of luck to have it come out of its hiding.

Conceptual model on the hand, is the result of design that has taken into consideration all the previous five psychological concepts. At least this is how I understood it. However, I am still very unsure about my understanding of this concept, and hence, will require some clarification about it.

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