D. A. “The Design of Everyday Things” Essay:
This paper analyzes the problem of design on the basis of the book “The Design of Everyday Things” written by Donald A. Norman. Mainly, the focus is made on the basic principles of a good design and recommendation to improvement designer’s work. At the beginning of the paper, the general information about design is given then it is analyzed in the context of Donald Norman’s concept. After that his advices and solution of possible problems the designer faces are given.
“User needs first – technology second.”
Donald Norman is famous as an outstanding specialist in the field of contemporary design. He is the author of many books dedicated to the problem of design and recent trends in our society and the influence of changes in design on each individual and on the society at large as well as he studied human psychology and modern technologies and design.
Among his most famous works may be named “The Invisible Computer”, “Design Rules Based on Analysis of Human Error” but probably the most interesting is his book that will be in the focus of analysis of this paper and this book is “The design of Everyday Things. This book may be treated as a conceptual work of Donald Norman since his main ideas and principles are quite clearly presented here. It is obvious that nowadays it is extremely important to know what are the recent trends in technologies and design in order to keep pace with a rapidly progressing world that make all members of human society to change themselves in accordance with technological changes.
Design, its nature
Before starting to speak about the book of Donald Norman “The Design of Everyday Things” it is necessary to say a few words about design at large in order to understand its ability to influence human beings and their psychology.
First of all, it should be indicated that design related activity involve a huge range of various human planning activities. It may be the design of intricate and interrelated pieces of equipment, the design of bridges and buildings, the design of fashion clothing, finally the computer design, etc.
There may be defined practical and creative aspects of design since on the one hand it includes subsequent development and manufacturing processes. It may also be defined as activity itself that results in a product of central interest. On the other hand, there is always a creative part of design which involves imagination of a designer and his creative abilities.
Typically, design is a purposeful, goal-oriented activity. For instance, Gibson estimates that “there are means of determining to what extent the design activities achieve their goals. In many cases, it is possible to extract lessons learned from previous experience and to develop heuristic, guidelines, rules and principles to guide future design activities.” (Gibson 1977:76).
Thus, it may be said that the design is based on human experience and is constantly progressing and as Norman points out it significantly influences human psychology and to a certain extent defines a person’s behavior.
The importance of good design for everyday things
From the very beginning it is necessary to point out that Donald Norman emphasizes the user’s needs which are above all for the author of “The Design of Everyday Things”. At this respect he singles out two basic components. Firstly, the designer must make sure the user can figure out what to do with the product. Secondly, the designer must be sure that the user knows what is going on.
At first glance everything seems to be quite simple but in fact it is far from reality. Moreover, according to Donald Norman even simple everyday things have many of the same problems as much more complicated systems that need to be user-oriented, simple and comfortable at the same time regardless the degree of its complicity. Thus, by equalizing both complex systems and simple everyday things Donald Norman makes the reader think that everyday things are to a certain extent even more complicated because they are used so frequently and by an extremely wide range of users of different educational, professional, social, and finally intellectual level.
At the same time he underlines that good design is extremely important, particularly for everyday things. According to Donald Norman, good design may empower the user and make his or her job easier and more enjoyable. He underlines that the goal of every good, professional designer is to help users improve their performance and feel satisfied after the use of a system or object constructed by the designer. This is the effect that good design may produce on a user.
On the contrary, poor design produces quite an opposite effect. Poor design often leads to human error. The latter, in its turn may lead to a psychological trauma because a user tend to blame him- or herself in such errors and often people feel uncomfortable or even guilty and inadequate when they have problems with a system or object. Furthermore, such a situation may cause problems concerning interaction of a user with the system and influence his or her attitude to other systems or objects as well. Where as well designed systems and objects which are easy to interpret and understand, should contain visible clues to their operations, and they are designed to minimize chances of errors and effects they produce on a user. Donald Norman estimates that “in the real world, there are huge pressures on the designer to get something done quickly and with less money.” (1990:106). However, it seems to be quite difficult to fulfill such a task. It also affects he final product the designer has to produce. As a result designers have to choose, or more precisely they are forced to choose certain characteristics of the system or object they work on. They may also be forced to give up usability in favor of other factors such as aesthetic, additional functionality, or reduced costs.
Taking into considerations these ideas, Donald Norman estimates that “a good rule of thumb in design is that if the designer really likes some special feature, it should probably be the first thing to be discarded.” (1990:78). Thus, it is obvious that Donald Norman is in between, on the one hand he realizes that design should be user-oriented and final products should be simple and easy to use, but, on the other hand, he understand designers and their position. He knows that designers have sometimes to sacrifice their ideas, innovative or genius they are, for the user’s sake.
Stages of a good design process
On coming to understanding all the complicity of the designing process and needs and demands of users that influence designers’ work, Donald Norman worked out a number of rules that may be used by designers in order to create a well designed system or object.
First of all, the author gives a piece of advice to the designer: “The proper way to design anything is to start with understanding the tasks that are to be done and the needs of the users.” (1990:141). At the same time he singles out several stages that are important in the design process.
Briefly speaking all stages may be summed up as a certain sequence of actions. To create a really well designed system or object, the designer has to understand users while users, in their turn, have to form the goals and forms of the system or object they would like to work with. On doing this, the designer is advised to make a decision or at least have an intention to act, in order to achieve the goal. After that the designer has to select the sequence of actions and finally physically to perform the actions which lead to the achievement of the final goal.
Actually, all these things presuppose that the system or object will be finally created but it is not the final stage of the process of the creation of a really well designed system or object. At any rate, it will be as such if users accept the system or object the designer has already created. So, the user perceives the result of the designer’s work and then he or she make their own interpretation of the system or object as corresponding or not to their expectations. Finally, it is necessary to evaluate the final product, the system or object, and the original designer’s goal and intentions. So, if the product is well designed and is accepted by users than it may be said that the design is good and corresponds to all, major demands of users.
Now, it is necessary to dwell upon some details of the design process. Actually, at this part Donald Norman’s critical evaluation of the main stages of the design process will be discussed. For instance, at the stage when user forms the image of his or her ideal system or object he or she expects to get there may appear two problems that the designer has to cope with. Firstly, it is the problem that user’s expectations cannot be performed due to inappropriate system controls. Another problem that may occur at this stage arises when the system representation of the final product does not make sense to the user in terms of their initial goals and intentions. Consequently, one of designer’s priorities is to avoid such problems particularly if he or she works on an ordinary everyday thing.
However, Donald Norman sounds quite optimistic at this point, especially when he speaks about designing a good interface: “The good news is that we actually do know a lot about how to design things appropriately for use by people. Moreover, most things designed for human use, especially electronic and computer devices, are so bad that it doesn’t take much knowledge to make dramatic improvements.” (1990:231). Judging from this passage the author tend to be ironic but still it sounds quite reasonably because electronic and computer devices are relatively new for human beings as they have been introduced in their lives not so long time ago. Naturally, it is difficult to predict users expectations especially if a specific character of this industry is taken into account. What is meant here is the fact that electronic and computer industry are developing extremely fast and very often new products are created. As a result designers have to work on absolutely new products which are only on their way to be introduced in the use. Furthermore, in some cases firms introducing new products tend to create an artificial demand to their products as a result it is practically impossible for the designer to foresee users’ expectations, on the other hand, a great part of the system of object success, depends personally on the designer and his creative abilities.
Such kind of problems are not the only possible that is why the advices given by Donald Norman in his work may be extremely useful. For instance, he believes that it is necessary to use both knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head. It means the use of creative imagination of the designer and his knowledge about users’ expectations. Another important thing, he singles out, is the simplification of the structure of tasks that permits to the designer to clearly understand the goal and consequently the final product he or she works on. Furthermore, he advises to make things visible that mean that the designer has to underline the positive aspect of his or her creation in order to attract users. Also it is extremely important to ‘get the mappings right’. The term ‘mappings’ means the visible relation between controls and their functions, between what a user needs and wants to do and what is possible. Finally, one more important advice given by Donald Norman is the design for errors. Paradoxically it sounds but still it is quite a good idea. The author states that it is in human nature to error that is why a good designer has to foresee possible human errors and try to avoid them.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that in the contemporary, permanently changing world a very important role plays design of systems and objects, particularly those that are used by people in their everyday life. At this respect Donald Norman consider it essential to pay particular attention to users’ demand, needs and expectations that make the design process user-oriented. He believes that, if the designer follows this principle along with his advice given in his work, then he will succeed.
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