The Psychopathology of Everyday Things – Reading Response

The Psychopathology of Everyday Things is a book written by Donald Norman, about the importance of design in facilitating the communication between users and the object or service. Seeing as how the book was written by a cognitive scientist, it was interesting to see how different theories and concepts of psychology determine what “good” or “bad” design is. What I got from reading the first chapter, is that Norman is attempting to discuss the numerous design principles that come into focus when a certain design malfunctions.

Norman employs the terms affordances and signifiers, and assigns them great value as essential concepts in the creating a design experience tailored for the user. Norman’s in-depth explanation of these concepts, made me consider how every object we interact with on a daily basis, has a perceived or unperceived affordance, and I immediately thought back to all the times I fought with doors; not intuitively knowing whether to pull or push it on the first try. This brings Norman to his next essential concept of the inclusion of adequate signifiers, which are meant to help facilitate the user experience and make it easier. The author elaborates on the perceived shortcomings some signifiers have, and how they can often be misleading to users. Norman also emphasises the importance of having signifiers, and how they help construct a “good” design or user experience. This is due to the fact that good design predominantly requires the presence of clear communication of purpose and structure to the user.

Another vital challenge to the formation of a cohesive user experience is the mapping and feedback inherent to a specific object or design. Mapping tackles the connection and correspondence between the different elements and controls within a certain design – which ultimately makes it easier to navigate the use of a product. Similarly, feedback refers to designing a system that communicates the result of an action to the user. Adequate and vivid feedback facilitates the user experience, while poor feedback can be misleading and disconcerting to the user.

All in all, it was evident in the reading that Norman is attempting to create an analysis of all the design concepts and elements that are crucial for establishing a cohesive and productive user-based experience. Norman also discusses the importance of considering behavioral psychology, ergonomics and several design principles, even when designing the most basic objects.

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