Response: “The Psychopathology of Everyday Things”

In this chapter, Norman introduces principles of design using examples of unsuccessful everyday objects. He looks at these objects mostly from a conceptual viewpoint and attributes the most important characteristics of good design to understandability and discoverability. He then explains the different parts of design functionality using principles of interaction such as affordances, signifiers, mapping, and feedback.

I think the main challenge he presents in this chapter is the extent to which we could (and should) incorporate human-centered design (HCD) into devices. There are many different factors governing the process of design, such as functionality, profitability in the market, and usability. One ever-present challenge in designing devices is the human-machine interaction and our ability to reconcile the binarity or limitations of computers that run these devices with the complexities of humans that use them, especially when technology is exceeding at a faster speed than design.

However, I think he exaggerates the extent to which these everyday objects “complicate” our lives, as well as the extent to which designers should rely on the human aspect. Bad design is indeed harmful, especially when there are ways that we could make devices more efficient and easy to use, but in the same way that we attribute the faults of design to the designer, we could also attribute the faults of understandability to the user. Yes, Norman proposes that “human errors” are just excuses for poor design, but to what degree are we willing to extract the user’s effort from the process, and why? People are becoming increasingly critical of bad design, and that is an issue that Norman expresses clearly in the chapter, however, aside from pointing out the faults of such devices as the wristwatch or the refrigerator, for example–– he does not propose any useful solutions. That is not to disregard the importance of the frameworks he sets for designers as those are useful conceptual structures we can immensely benefit from in the field of design.

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