I am currently on the road to become a Product Designer. In my research on what the best path is for becoming a Product Designer, the advice I found countless times was to read Donald A. Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things. So I did. This isn’t a review or anything, but a brief analysis on my experiences with the design of every day things. Well, everyday household things.
Like many after reading The Design of Everyday Things, I became extremely aware of the both well designed and poorly designed objects that I interact with on a daily basis. I was raised in California to a modest, middle class family and am now living in Barcelona, Spain. I started thinking of my experience at my parent’s house in California and my new experiences here in my apartment in Barcelona. A few years prior, my parents remodeled their kitchen and made it something out of a HGTV episode of My Dream House, equipped with very nice appliances and features. Here in Barcelona, I would say I have a modernized apartment near La Ramblas. This is a comparison of some of the everyday things I interacted with back at home and interact with now.
There will be three things that are considered/ranked before making the final design decision:
- Indicators: Feedback that says that something has occurred. All users need a response for them to know something has occurred. We as humans need this. In many natural things, this occurs. When cooking, meat changes color to show it is cooked. When you get a cut, you know by the blood that is coming out. When something is moldy, you can tell from the smell and look. Indicators are important for us to understand that an action has taken place.
- Visibility: How visible things are on the devices that make the functionality clear. You want to be able to see things and make assumptions based on the placement of the button. The more visible buttons on an interface are, the less confusion that could occur. This includes description texts, lights, etc.
- Usability: Ease of use of the system design. Think of the other “U” word; understanding. Can you understand this device? Can a random person understand this device? This may be the most important thing because it combines everything.
Overall design ratings can be:
Fantastic | Great | Ehh| Awful | Don Norman Would Be Upset
Security Alarm System
The security alarm system is always a difficult thing to assess. You obviously do not want an entire screen the size of a television on your wall so companies aim to make it nice and small and easy enough to make a quick adjustment on your way out of the house.
My alarm in Barcelona is confusing. We have four options here but what do they mean? What does the man outside of the house mean? Am I supposed to push it when I am outside? Is that possible? What about my house with the 2? Is that for my second house? I do not have a second house. The bottom two make a little more sense, or so I thought. The little SOS on the corner helped me realize that it is an emergency button, but what is the difference between the two? Is the left one for when I am inside the house and the other for when my house is in a time space continuum black hole? There are well placed lights to serve as indicators, but no point in that if I will never use it! Needless to say, I am going to sleep with a knife in under my pillow and my bedroom door locked.
Indicators: 3/5 | Visibility: 4/5 | Usability: 1/5
Design: Don Norman Would be Upset
This makes me happy. Simple and straight to the point. Three buttons: 1) at home 2) leaving 3) night mode. There are then nine numbers to select a code and two little icons on the bottom that show the alarm being on and the battery. This is a great alarm. Minimum options that are very clear and to the point. Though it is very easy and straightforward, there were still countless times that I forgot to turn it on. Sorry, Mom.
Indicators: 5/5 | Visibility: 5/5 | Usability: 5/5
Thermometers have changed throughout the years, which is odd because they are quite simple and the most important (in my opinion) I mean, who wants to live in a house that is too hot or cold?
The initial interface is simple. Press the yellow button to start it and a little green light appears. You then adjust the temperature with either the up or down arrow. I like that. I like that a lot. I can even configure it while in the dark or while poking my arm from my room. This is how the design is supposed to be. Anyone can come over for the first time and adjust the temperature (WARNING: do not touch my thermometer, we will fight). There is a mess of buttons below the flap, I will ignore it because the main functionality is straightforward.
Indicators: 5/5 | Visibility: 5/5 | Usability: 5/5
It is a bit difficult to compare these two because one is a simple thermometer and the other is a “smart” device. What we can compare, though, is the user interface and experience so we will do that.
The Nest, even with its digital interface and 2.75 inch touchscreen, has a pretty simple userface. Upon passing the Nest, it automatically turns on and you see a few simple icons that are very straightforward (top picture). To do the simple thing of turning on and off the unit, you just go to the fan icon and turn it to the temperature. Because there is no room for a light indicator, Nest uses color so there is not too much confusion. This is a digital product designed right.
Indicators: 4/5 | Visibility: 5/5 | Usability: 5/5
Microwaves have had their ups and their downs. There are more buttons on some microwaves than there are on all the clothes in my closet combined! Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but there are many microwaves that have tons of buttons. There are some with button overload and some with no buttons at all. Microwave design is more about preference.
“We don’t need buttons!” — probably the creators of this microwave.
It is fairly simple. Two knobs. That’s it. Pick the number of minutes you want to heat up your food (top knob) and choose your setting (bottom knob). The bottom knob could raise eyebrows (as mine did) but you can use common sense to figure it out. The right three are pretty easy: chose heat level 1, 2 or 3. The snow flake is probably a defroster and the furthest left one is for soups? That one is a little difficult, but the common functionality and use of the microwave is very easy. There are not indicators on the microwave interface itself, but they aren’t entirely necessary with that obnoxious microwave heating noise, rotating plate and light.
Indicators: 3/5 | Visibility: 5/5 | Usability: 5/5
This microwave has its fair share of buttons, but it is fairly simple. My biggest issues with microwaves is when they use the same button for multiple things, but here we see that the most important buttons (Start, Stop, Power Level and Cook Time) are easily visible and alone (and if they do have a second action, it clearly states it in text). Though the extra features can raise questions, such as popcorn, soup, and beverage (hot saki anyone?), the specifications show up on the little screen there. I personally think small screens are awful on devices like this, but that is just a preference. This microwave does its basic component: p̷o̷i̷s̷o̷n̷ ̷u̷s̷ ̷w̷i̷t̷h̷ ̷r̷a̷d̷i̷a̷t̷i̷o̷n̷, i mean, warm up our food. ☺
Indicators: 3/5 | Visibility: 5/5 | Usability: 4/5
Refrigerators are the second most important thing on my list. Food is important. Food makes us happy. Food gives us energy. Food is tasty. Refrigerators hold food, so they should be easy to use and cause no stress.
The settings look simple, but oh no: there is one knob and two things to change. What am I going to do? Oh wait, there is a button on the left that controls the freezer. The icon next to the button is the same as the freezer icon for no confusion, but when I press it, it doesn’t change. Is it broken or did i press it wrong? It would’ve been nice to have a little light to show that the button is being pressed. This could’ve been better designed. Maybe that’s why my eggs are always frozen…
Indicators: 2/5 | Visibility: 4/5 | Usability: 3/5
There are many more buttons in this fridge, but there are just as many screens and colors that are indicators for the users. Indicators are good. We touch a button and it actually shows us. We love indicators and this fridge has them. Buttons and settings are placed in common “menus” making them easy to understand.
Indicators: 5/5 | Visibility: 5/5 | Usability: 5/5
Ovens are like microwaves because they can either have simple settings or a bunch of extra features. The last thing anybody wants is to delicately prepare an amazing dish with delicious ingredients, thorough methodology and love; just to have it over cooked because the darn oven was confusing.
Buttons are not a very popular thing in my apartment. This oven has no buttons, just three knobs. One for the setting, one for the time, and one for the temperature. Each icon for the settings is very clear. Want the top and bottom heated? You can find that easily. Want it to be 150°C (sorry Americans, 302°F)? Just turn that middle dial. Though precise temperature is a little difficult with knobs, you can get very close. A real cook doesn’t need precision to cook anyways, just love. ❤ There is one light on the front to indicate that the temperature is increasing. Another indicator would’ve been nice, but the oven light and loud fan is enough to let me know it functioning.
Indicators: 2/5 | Visibility: 4/5 | Usability: 4/5
I cut this oven interface a little bit of slack because it has two ovens to control, though they could’ve done much better. Because ovens only do a limited number of things, the real differentiation between the two are with an “Upper” and “Lower” button. When the oven is on, a little orange oven icon takes up either the top half or bottom half of the left side of the screen (See Below).
This is noticeable enough but I do wish there was a light that was shown on the Cancel button. There were a few times I cancelled the wrong one just because I forgot which one I had on and was in a hurry. I know, not a big deal, but a little light would have ensured there is NO confusion. Everything else about the oven is splendid.
Indicators: 3/5 | Visibility: 4/5 | Usability: 5/5
It appears I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by things that were designed pretty darn good. Before beating yourself up the next time you overcook something or wake up sweating because you put on the wrong temperature, think about the design of the device first. Was it designed to make you, the user, have a problem free experience or did confusion occur before happiness? Take a look around the things that you interact with on a daily basis and evaluate how easy it is for you. Remember that everything that is around you had to be designed. Design it arguably the one distinct thing that separates us from other species.
I recommend everyone, regardless of your profession or age, read The Design of Everyday Things. Shoutout Don Norman and shoutout designers that make it easy. Feel free to share so people can realize the importance and impact good design has on their lives ❤.
Until I post again. ✌️
Well-designed objects are easy to interpret and understand. They contain visible clues to their operation. Poorly designed objects can be difficult and frustrating to use. They provide no clues — or sometimes false clues. They trap the user and thwart the normal process of interpretation and understanding. Alas, poor design predominates. The world is filled with frustration, with objects that cannot be understood, with devices that lead to error. — Don Norman