How many of you take the design of the products you use for granted? I know I do. And I think the same claim goes for a lot of us. There is so much work that goes behind just the design of these products and we don’t see half of it. No matter how you see it, virtually everything is designed. From the appliances in your home to the stores you shop in. So why can’t we seem to understand how to work (with) these designs?
The reason most of us take it for granted is probably due in part to the fact that we have this ongoing frustration with the products we are using. Why is it this way? Bingo, you guessed it: it’s the design. Or it’s just in our human nature to be stubborn as hell. Don Norman goes on to explain this frustration among other concepts in “The Design of Everyday Things”.
So let’s start with the obvious here: there are so many unnecessary troubles involved with the design of products. You would think that in our society, modern devices would be easier to use than before. I actually think it is the opposite; with more going on in all aspects of our lives today, designs have become harder to manage and understand. I always think to myself, why couldn’t the inventors of this product make it easier to use? My question was answered in Norman’s text when he acknowledges engineers role in all of this mess. He claims that engineers are trained to think logically; so naturally, they think we do too.
NEWS FLASH: we don’t. It’s just not wired into our non-engineer brains. It is fact that even engineers make mistakes, proving that there is no hope for the rest of us. My dad will take a stab at trying to “fix” anything I can’t seem to use properly, even if it means he works hours on end to do it. He also never seems to use a manual of any kind because he thinks he knows what he is doing. 99% of the time, he doesn’t. When we see complex manuals, our first instinct is to ignore it because we think we can do it better ourselves. This is then what leads to frustration, followed by our obsession with being concerned with how things work. An example of this is the design of my computer. I wouldn’t say I am the most tech-savy person in my generation, especially when it comes to dealing with programs on my Mac Book. I guarantee that any installation that is said to be “super easy” or “quick and simple” to install is not. This backs up the claim that attractive does not always mean practical.
So what is the solution, you may be wondering? Norman claims it is human-centered design that will be the remedy to our lack of knowledge regarding the design of products. This new form of design will put the consumer’s needs first by matching their capabilities. And that is just what we want, right? A product that fits our needs and is made to give us the best possible and pleasurable experience? Bingo.
Even with products that we think play a minute role in our lives, they are built with the intent to please us in some ways. Norman talks about affordance, the idea of a relationship between a physical object and a person, or any interacting thing. So next time you use a pen, don’t think of it as some tiny object you use to do your homework or sign a check; it’s a product that was made for you. So embrace it.
Who knew so much thought went behind the products we use? I know I didn’t. Each new technology or product design offers the potential to make our lives easier. However, sometimes those new products can cause problems just as easily as we think they can fix them. Remember that frustration will most likely come even though the design will say it’s easy to use. But just remember, no matter what the label says, it’s never so easy a caveman could do it.