Do you even design?

In Don Norman’s book (The Design of Everyday Things) Prof. Norman focuses on how people ‘do things’, like interact with tools and technology, and how they evaluate their actions. He also highlights the role of the designer, as someone who must consider the psychology of human-device interactions. Don suggests that a well-designed product is intuitive to use (i.e. without ever having used such a device, a person will have some intuition as to how it functions), and easy to evaluate (i.e. manipulations performed on/with the device result in predictable outcomes). Accordingly, he states that the role of the designer is to help people bridge the “gulfs” between execution and evaluation (execution: where they try to figure out how it operates; evaluation: where they try to figure out what happened).

Let’s say you’re a designer tasked with sending a fire-producing device back in time, for use by prehistoric man. You’ve studies the following contemporary devices used to produce fire:


Which of these devices do you send back in time? What improvements/changes would you make to one or more of these items?

What design elements of these items will help bridge the Gulf of Execution? Gulfs

(N.B.: The Gulf of Execution reflects the degree of difficulty in understanding how a device functions. We bridge the Gulf of Execution through the use of signifiers, constraints, mappings, and a conceptual model.)

What design elements of these items will help bridge the Gulf of Evaluation?

(N.B.: The Gulf of Evaluation reflects the amount of effort that the person must make to interpret the physical state of the device and to determine how well the expectations and intentions have been met. We bridge the Gulf of Evaluation through the use of feedback and a conceptual model.)

The caveman has just stumbled upon your cache of futuristic-looking items; considering Don’s 7-Stages of Action and 3-Stages of Processing…


…Do you expect a problematic ‘bottleneck’ or ‘gulf’ arising at a particular stage?

Finally, which one would you prefer using? If there is a reasonable expectation that someone will be around who is knowledgeable about the device, does that change anything from a design perspective? If something is incredibly easy to use, but only after explicit instruction, is it still a bad design?

(post by Brad Monk)

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