Log 3a: Reading Analysis

Work being analyzed: Chapter 3 and 4 of The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman.

Chapter 3:

Chapter 3 is about using what we already know in our heads with the knowledge presented to us in the environment to perform a task.

Norman calls this using precise behavior from imprecise knowledge (55). While from memory you might not know the order of all the keys on a keyboard or the exact detailing of a penny, you still know how to type and how to spend a penny because the external knowledge helps fill in the missing information. Memory doesn’t need to be prcise though, as people can remember enough to distinguigh what needs to be so (58). The more you retain, the less you need to learn from the external sources, the more skilled and efficient you become.

He also discusses the two kinds of knowledge people have to use in order to function.
One of them is declarative knowledge, or their knowledge “of.” This the the knowledge of facts and rules. This type is easy to write down and teach.
The other is procedural knowledge, or their knowledge “how.” This is the kind of knowledge that allows people to do things such as play an instrument. This is harder to write down and teach. It is easier to demonstrate and learn by practice. (Norman 57-58)

It is the designer’s job to provide clues to serve in the memory of how to use all of these things.  They make sure the the environment provides enough clues to make the job easy. These external constraints can reduce the number of options on an item, making the amount of things to remember significantly smaller (Norman 60).

Norman also discusses the two kinds of memory.
1. Short Term Memory (STM): memory of the present; it can be retrieved with no effort, but you can’t hold a lot of information; it is valuable in everyday tasks, but easily forgotten in you get distracted (66).
2. Long Term Memory (LTM): memory of the past; it takes time to put away and to recall. It is an interpretation of what happened, and there isn’t a limit on how much and be in your memory (67).

Your memory is your internal knowledge and it comes in three categories:
1. Memory for Arbitrary things
2. Memory for Meaningful Relationships
3. Memory through explanation.(Norman 67)

All of these serve in the way people approach things and how they go about using an item.

The external knowledge supplied from one’s environment has drawbacks, the biggest being the “out of sight, out of mind” scenario. The two ways to combat that are reminders and natural mappings. Whether one needs to be reminded by a calendar, another person calling, or just willing themselves to keep it in their head bring back the knowledge of what and how it must be done. Natural mappings take away any ambiguity and eliminates the need for a memory. (Norman 72-78). The latter can be helped through effective design. It can create a better partnership between internal and external memory to make and object as easy to use as possible.

Norman closes the chapter by saying that with each item to approach, it is common that one may lean on external knowledge more than internal memory to make something work and vice versa. With that, comes tradeoffs. You get the pros of one way but have to deal with the restraints of the other (Norman 79).

It is up to the user to analyze which route they should take, but good design allows the decision and the actions to appear seamless and the item easy to use.


Chapter four deals with the user knowing what to do with each item they come across.

Actions can start out simple enough, but if one is using something that is more complicated, problems can arise when there is more than one possibility, for example, multiple buttons on a VCR. While approaching a new object, people initially try to seek instruction or use knowledge from previous objects with similarities to the current one. However, what needs to be used are affordances and constraints together to figure out what an object can do (Norman 81-82).

There are four different kinds of constraints:
1. Physical Constraints: You can tell what you can or can’t do just by looking at it. It is more effective if they are easier to see and interpret. That way, you know not to do something before any failed attempts are made (Norman 84).
2. Semantic Constraints: This is reliance on the situation to tell someone what to do. It is one’s previous knowledge of the situation and the world that tells the user what and what not to do (Norman 85).
3. Cultural Constraints: These are based on cultural concepts that are seen in daily life. They are represent by what Norman calls schemas, or rules and guidlines for interpretation and proper behaviors (85-86).
4. Logical Constraints: They are helped out by natural mappings. No physical or cultural principles are at work; it is the relationship between an object’s layout and their effects (Norman 86).

What a designer must do is use the above constraints and affordances in their design. These should make the design simpler and in turn, eliminate any encounters with errors. Should any arise, the design is a failure (Norman 87).

Besides affordances and constraints, a designer must also focus on:
1. Visibility: The relevants parts should be easily seen.
2. Feedback: each action should be given an effect, something to let the user know something has been done. It could be a light, a new display image, and sometimes, sound and be used for visibility and feedback.
(Norman 99-101).

If crucial parts are hidden, and nothing happens when an action is performed, the user will be left questioning if what they’ve done is right. As a designer, it it your job to answer questions and solves problems, no to create new ones. For each new capability that comes to fruition, new displays and new answers should be given to the user. Technology is confusing enough as it is, without a failed design making it worse.

Source: Norman, Donald A. The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books, 1988.


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