Decreasing Digital Clutter

In The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman touches on a lot of basic experience design principles. In reading just the first two chapters of this book, I am convinced that this book should really be required reading for all design schools, regardless of the specific type of design a student is studying.

The first chapter, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things,” Normal discusses the complexity of modern devices, human-centered design theory, fundamental principles of interaction, the system image, the paradox of technology, and the design challenge. Modern devices are meant to simplify our daily lives by enhancing our ability to get things done. Unfortunately, with this goal in mind, designers and developers may have unintentionally designed some difficult workflows that required too great of a learning curve for the general public. Modern devices are complex in its operations, but should be simple to use for the everyday human. There needs to be a strong relationship between designing products that fulfill true human needs. Instead of adding to the technological clutter, designers should help decrease it. Depending on the type of product it is, he delineates three different types of design: industrial design, interaction design, and experience design.

Norman also goes on to discuss human-centered design theory, which seems to be fairly straightforward. Human-centered design theory is a guiding approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, and then designing products that accommodates those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving. Instead of forcing people into a workflow, design needs to approach itself in a way that communicates well to the user (especially when it is from a machine to a human and back, via feedback and feedforward loops).

Norman also goes to great lengths to discuss the concepts of affordance, anti-affordance, and signifiers. He discusses how many designers mistake the interchangeable use of affordance and signifier. An affordance is a relationship between the properties of an object and the capabilities of the agent that determine just how the object could possibly be used. For example, a tablet can have a frame, a case, front-facing camera, back-facing camera, and a series of buttons that power on/off several apps and utilities. The buttons afford input/output. The cameras afford the capture of visual information. The case affords protection. However, the affordance is not a property. Using the same examples above, a tablet is not a frame, a camera is not a picture, and a case is not protection. The concept of signifiers is also discussed. If an affordance is not easily perceivable, sometimes a signifier is required in order to make an affordance more perceivable. Tiny pinhole cameras can take great photographs, but for instance, the iPhone places a small silver metallic ring around the back-facing camera apparatus. This small silver metallic ring serves as a signifier for the user of the phone – when they point and shoot a photo, they understand the relation of that camera aperture to their screen to the object in which they are pointing the camera at. This allows the user to translate the movement of their camera to the composition of the image on their screen.