Lucky Number 7: 7 Design Actions, Questions, and Principles

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I wake up every single morning with a challenge, two challenges actually. First, I never want to leave my warm bed. However, I (usually) overcome this problem of laziness and decide to begin my day. This is when challenge two begins: how to get from my lofted bed, 10 feet off the ground, to the floor. I have a couple options, none of which are ideal. I can climb down the slippery steps that are positioned way too far apart, risking falling. Or I can jump, intentionally falling.

This challenge may seem easy to overcome, but not when you are groggy and grumpy. This task can make me feel even more grumpy. The slippery steps always slow me down. With each added step the bed shakes and sounds like it might collapse. That really builds a girl’s confidence. All my frustration makes me wonder if the designers know how people like me interact with their product. Maybe if they knew they’d be working on an alternative, like a stable ladder to the side of the bed.

Norman lays out several lists to help us better understand ourselves and our relationships with frustrating products like my lofted bed in The Design of Everyday Things. Chapter 2, The Psychology of Everyday Actions, focuses on the different processes behind our actions, both conscious and subconscious. Chapter 3, Knowledge in the Head and in the World, differentiates between the knowledge we possess ourselves and the knowledge we gain from our surroundings. Both chapters stress the interdependency of human behavior and good design. A design cannot be successful without first considering the human processes that will occur when interacting with the product being designed. Designers of my lofted bed can’t begin to fix their faulty design until they understand how I will attempt to get out of the bed.

To understand human behavior, Norman first lays out the following 7 stages that humans go through when completing an action.

7 stages of action

  1. Goal– Determine it
  2. Plan what you will do
  3. Specify how you will do it
  4. Do it!
  5. Perceive your surroundings
  6. Interpret what happened
  7. Compare your end result with your goal

While some of these stages may be completed subconsciously, all stages occur at some level in every action you complete. For example, when I decide to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I first must realize that I am hungry. My hunger is my problem and satisfying my hunger is my goal. That delicious PB&J….The solution.

When making this sandwich, I don’t have to consciously tell myself to take the peanut butter out of the cabinet and the jelly out of the fridge. Nor do I have to explicitly tell my muscles how to move in order to complete these actions. They seem to just happen. What’s interesting about our human processing mechanisms is that somehow our brain transmits these messages to our nerves and muscles without us consciously thinking about it!

Once designers begin to understand the complexities beneath human action (which is no easy task!) they can begin to implement good design strategies. Norman encourages designers to design in such a way that any user can have a specific answer to the following questions about the  product being designed.

7 questions

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If designers keep these questions in mind, they can create a design that is harmonious with human behavior. When reading these questions, you’ll notice that each question corresponds with a stage of action. Therefore, if designers design so users can answer all seven questions, they will have designed a product that allows users to also successfully complete all seven stages of action. The easier users can answer these questions and complete these stages, the more satisfied they will feel with the product!

However, we know that creating these products are much easier said than done. Fortunately Norman lays out the following 7 fundamental principles of design that can aid in our quest to satisfy the user.

7 design principles

  1. Discoverability
  2. Feedback
  3. Conceptual model
  4. Affordances
  5. Signifiers
  6. Mappings
  7. Constraints

Executing these principals can get a little tricky, so take it one step at a time and look at them simplistically. Focus on the key concepts behind each principal and you’ll be designing better in no time!

Discussion Questions:

  1. What is a product you become easily frustrated with?
  2. How often do you identify your goal for completing an action?

Until next blog,

Evan

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