Designers, Watch the Designs – Donald Norman

In Donald Norman’s article, “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things”, he discusses the daily frustrations that are often faced by the average consumer due to poorly designed products, while giving explanations on how to fix these problems or to avoid these frustrations and confusions all together.

One of the examples that Norman brings up, which I believe is an excellent example since it’s used everyday by almost every person, is the door. Yet, these simple products that are designed to deliver simple tasks can be frustrating and confusing, even though all they’re supposed to do is open and close.

The first issue Norman brings up about doors is visibility. Visibility is described as what is immediately seen though the viewers eyes, and the signals that are portrayed through these visuals. For example, Norman discusses “natural signals” in his article, which are signals that are picked up by the human eye and conveys to the brain to perform a task that feels natural. To feel natural, a task has to be easy to complete, where no confusion or frustration is occurring.   Below is another example of doors that portray a good (left image) and bad (right image) design. With the good design, a user can tell which door needs the handle to be turned and which door needs to be pulled, while on the other hand the bad design does not make clear which visual means push or pull, because one visual signals two different actions.

Custom_door_Sm PushPullDoors

The concept of mapping is another element that Norman discusses in his article. Mapping is the orientation and arrangement of a product, and how this arrangement can help certain tasks to be performed. One example he talks about to support his theory of the need for successful mapping that lead to easily performed and understood tasks is the telephone. Norman used the telephone to describe the problem with its “hold” feature. He mentions how many people struggle with putting the phone on hold, because they never know which buttons to press, since many buttons performed more than one task, but do not clarify what tasks they do. He uses this to emphasize the need for a product to have good mapping in order for the consumer to fully understand its features and capabilities to it’s full extent.


Norman believes that the advancements of technology should never be an excuse for poor design. With this idea, he presents the concept of the washing machine, and how many consumers hardly use all the features that are featured in the washer, because they simply don’t know how to use them. Consumers get confused and frustrated when trying to figure out how to use all the fancy functions offered on the washing machine, so to avoid the frustrations, users don’t even bother trying to use the functions.


Two other issues Norman talks about is constraints and the need for feedback. Constraints allow the user to understand what tasks they can and cannot perform with certain products. Norman used scissors to show the power of constraints, since scissors can only be used with hands and constrain a user from using any other body parts, making them fully understand that a hand is supposed to be used. With feedback, Norman emphasizes that a consumer must know or have the ability to recognize when they are performing a task right, otherwise the user will not know what is right and what is wrong when it comes to using the product.

When producing products, designers have to keep in mind that their products have to be as user friendly as possible, have excellent mapping, natural signs, constraints, provide feedback, and be self explanatory with its functions in order to be considered successfully designed.

Posted on May 7, 2014, in Society, Technology, Visuals. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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