The Design of Future Things (D. Norman)

In Readings, Week 3 Readings on February 3, 2010 at 9:04 pm

The design of future things pertains to the importance of having some sort of feedback designed into objects. The design of objects has changed over time; people often opt to create silent devices for elegance or a quiet home or workplace. However, according to Norman, this has led to the development of objects that no longer give us the feedback that old devices used to. For example, a person may miss an elevator because it’s entire operation is quiet, and the old noises and chimes of an arriving elevator were no longer there to cue the individual.

According to Norman, a device must provide feedback, which is essential for reassurance, progress reports and time estimates, learning, special circumstances, confirmation, and governing expectations. For example, when driving a car, the sound of the engine could provide feedback for how many rpm it is running at, or if it is breaking down.

Ultimately, Norman contests that when a user fails at using an object, the object is at fault, not the user. He argues this point with the Apple Newton, a handwriting recognition system in 1993. The system was “released with great fanfare,” but ultimately was difficult to use and failed.

Norman goes on to suggest designs that give feedback to the user that requires almost no thought, or, rather, only natural thought from the user. These include natural signs, such as varying distance between two hands to signal a driver how much space they have between the car and a wall; and natural mappings, such as knobs on a stove in the same shape as the burners (as opposed to in a line).

Ultimately, Norman suggests that design of “smart” machines should follow six rules:

1. Provide rich, complex, and natural signals.
2. Be predictable.
3. Provide a good conceptual model.
4. Make the output understandable.
5. Provide continual awareness, without annoyance.
6. Exploit natural mappings to make interaction understandable and effective.

In the second portion of the reading, Norman plays the part of one interviewing the machines, and produced the following design rules for “machines to improve their interactions with people”:

1. Keep things simple.
2. Give people a conceptual model.
3. Give reasons.
4. Make people think they are in control.
5. Continually reassure.
6. Never label human behavior as “error”.
(copied from reading)

From “The Design of Future Things”, Ch 8, by D. Norman

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