Design of Everyday Things
While computer design has its own idiosyncrasies, we can
learn a tremendous amount by looking at the design of everyday things. We start
with bad design, which make us realize that the problems and errors people face when
dealing with even simple technology are usually a result of design failure. We
then move to understanding visual design principles that help us analyze
bad design and create good designs.
- Pathological designs
- Examples of poor design: chariots, microwaves, digital watches, slide projectors, telephones...
- World war two: machinery that taxed people's capabilities
- Computer Failure? The accident caused by the British Motorway Communications system
- Other computer psychopathologies
- Design of everyday things
- Visible affordances
- Visible constraints
- Transfer effects
- Idioms and population stereotypes
- Conceptual models
- Individual differences and percentiles
- Why design is hard
- The Design of Everyday Things (Excerpt pp. 5-22), Norman, D. A. (1988) Basic
- This is an excellent, entertaining
and informed discussion of what comprises bad and good design in everyday objects.
(Reprinted in Baecker Grudin Buxton and Greenberg). Buy this book! Its
I often bring in a bag to class full of everyday things. The bag includes staplers,
scissors, tape-dispensers, alarm clocks, digital watches, floppy disks, CD-cases, and
anything else I find lying around my office. When the discussion turns to design
components of everyday things (e.g., visual affordances, constraints, etc.), I consider
how well the items in my bag work.
I also try to find a real odd-ball device that is not familiar to most students.
Examples in the past included an apple peeler and corer (which looks like an implement a
torturer would use!) and a co-ax wire stripper. I pass it around for students to try and
figure out what it is. We then discuss what visual clues helped them understand its
I give students the exercise. They
analyze a GUI design, articulate its problems, and suggest redesigns.
- The Design of Everyday Things Norman, D. A. (1988) Basic
Books. The entire book is well worth reading, as it is devoted to this topic.
- GUI Bloopers (2002) Jeff Johnson, Morgan Kaufmann. Lots of examples of bad designs and how to fix them
- Interface Halls of Shame. Many web sites collect examples of bad design plus critiques. Search
- The Strauss Mouse, Mantei (1990, SVGR 56).
This video is a re-enactment of situations where people used a mouse in
inappropriate ways. It is humorous, and reminds us that even very "familiar"
computer objects may be a mystery to new users.
- All the Widgets, by Myers (1990, SVGR 57). This video shows the evolution of many widget designs, and I use snippets
from it to illustrate how early (and poor) widget designs often failed to
satisfy many of the design principles suggested by Norman, and how later ones
do. The evolution of scrollbars is a good choice, as early versions are quite
arcane. It is a good way to show how graphical widget design should follow the
principles similar to the good design of everyday things.
Major sources used to prepare lecture material
- The additional readings and web sites mentioned above
- The material of Professor David Hill, a previous teacher of this course, supplied
several of the examples used in lectures.