Don Norman: The Psychology of Everyday Things

[Readings] (08.29.08, 4:33 pm)


In this classic and seminal work, Norman canonically covers topics of the design of objects and devices, using copious examples of bad design to illustrate how good design may be achieved. Norman’s perspective is that of a usability expert and an engineer. He is interested in users’ cognitive models of devices, and how easily they may execute their goals using those objects. In this sense, he uses a classic cognitive model of problem solving, very reminiscent of Newell and Simon’s Generalized Problem Solver.

Norman’s key points are on the cognitive models of objects that users form, the transparency with which the objects enable users to discover that model, and how the affordances objects map onto these models. Objects should use feedback to make transparent the states of an object so that it may be transparently understood.

In studying human engagement with artifacts, Norman uses a cycle (familiar to cognitive science) of goal formation, execution, and evaluation. Norman outlines seven stages of action:

  1. Forming the goal
  2. Forming the intention
  3. Specifying the action
  4. Executing the action
  5. Perceiving the state of the world
  6. Interpreting the state of the world
  7. Evaluating the outcome

This clearly operates in opposition to a more phenomenological reading of interaction. It stands by the notion of man as a reasoning animal, so this cycle, and its iterations (identifying error and the like) is a normal part of engagement with the world. Where frustration occurs is when expectations conflict with feedback in execution and evaluation.

Where Norman’s theory fails is in his treatment of aesthetics (which are always subservient to the functional capacity of an object, and also in cases where user intention is totally non-accounted for in the original design. This makes Norman’s approach conflict strongly with creative tasks. The best example of this is the Lego motorcycle (p. 83), which Norman seems to believe has a “correct” assembled shape.

Reading Info:
Author/EditorNorman, Donald
TitleThe Psychology of Everyday Things
Tagsdigital media, dms, hci
LookupGoogle Scholar, Google Books, Amazon

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