Bad Design is Everywhere.

Watch (5:09): It’s not you, Bad doors are everywhere. – Vox

Think of a door, just one side. What does it look like? Does it have a knob? If so, Is the knob on the left, or right? It’s pretty consistent, as far as I’m aware, that we’ve gotten used to pulling knobs on the right, and pushing on the left. Now what about doors in the wild? Maybe in an office building, or the entrance to a hotel. These often have “push” or “pull” labeled, but why? Likely because if it wasn’t labeled, people will take an incorrect guess. This should happen around 50% of the time, assuming a regular bad door, but it’s likely you know of a door that maybe 80-90% of people guess wrong on the first try. These, we call Norman Doors. (Coined by Don Norman, Author of The Design of Everyday Things)

I’ve mentioned Participatory Design, but if we go a single step up the tree, ie. more generic/further from the user, we have something known as Human-Centered Design (HCD). We can easily understand what this means (Design centered around people), but we can dig a little deeper. Two important parts of HCD are what we can call Discoverability and Feedback. Discoverability is what causes all these door problems. Discoverability is, quite literally, the ability to discover what a user can do to this something. The problem with many doors is that, on the side meant to be pushed, they may have a large handle which can be pulled. This is obviously the opposite of what we want, so we should aim to remove this ambiguity. One of many ideal doors may have a flat metal rectangle on the side meant to be pushed, as it has a very clear Discoverability. The answer of “What are my options” is set to one- push. The other side may have a cylindrical vertical handle, as it’s much more intuitive to pull a vertical handle and push a horizontal one.

Feedback, while not entirely relevant to doors, is another important part of HCD. If you’ve ever seen Apple’s iPhone X, It has no buttons on it’s touchscreen face, but it does a decent job (so I hear) at making it obvious what each touch or set of motions does. Relatively poor Discoverability, but relatively good feedback. Now, if you’ve ever had a new car, with buttons that have terms you don’t know, and pressing them appears to do nothing at all, that is a great example of something with poor feedback.

Clearly, most of these things are not designed with malice, so why is it such a common issue? The answer is likely oversight. Underwhelming, I know, but we can avoid this, rather easily with Iterative Design. Step one: Observe people. Step two: Generate ideas or solutions. Step three: Prototype in some way. Step four: Test it! Whether that be through WoZ, or just trying the thing yourself. Just ask “Is this intuitive?” If not, then we go back to step one, with our newfound knowledge, and try again.

(Together, we can save humanity from terrible Norman Doors)

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