Intro to Physical Computing

Week 2: Discussing Usability vs Aesthetics

I have read the entirety of Norman’s Design of Everyday Things in the past and believe that all inventors, engineers, and designers should do the same.  Norman’s breakdown of everyday products makes you think about the world differently.  After reading the book I started noticing poorly designed doors and poorly labeled buttons everywhere.  You gain an appreciation for products that just work and are intuitive and gain a distain for ones that don’t.  One message from the book that has stuck with me is that when a product does not work, it is not the users fault, it is the fault of the design.  Since reading this, I constantly analyze the objects that I interact with to determine their design success.  Of course the most common one we all encounter is a Norman door.  Doors that are meant to be push yet I pull them, or visa versa.  It may seem like this is an irritating way to live, however, I have found it insights my own ideas.  The frequency with which I am effected by poor design has inflicted on me a passion for creating designs that are successful and thoughtful.  Once we have an idea, we cannot just run with it, we need to consider its usability.  One area where the book lacked, however, was a discussion on the importance of attractiveness.  One may walk away from reading the book, thinking that usability is much more important than aesthetics.  However, in this new article by Norman, “Attractive Things Work Better,” Norman addresses this hole in his earlier book.  Using new research in psychology Norman ultimately concludes that aesthetics is equal to usability.  He writes, “A short summary is that good human-centered design practices are most essential for tasks or situations that are stressful: distractions, bottlenecks, and irritations need to be minimized.  In pleasant, positive situations, people are much more likely to be tolerant of minor difficulties and irrelevancies.”  I find this fascinating.  Our reactions to products change depending on the situation and our mood.  This makes the challenge of making well designed things harder.  If you are designing for all types of situations and all types of users, the task can be quite daunting.  This discussion also made me think about the importance of aesthetics vs usability and workability for the maker.  When someone has an idea and starts to prototype it, the first quality they are looking for is that it works, no matter the looks.  The next quality they look for is that it is usable.  And the last quality is that is looks good.  So usually, the way we design puts workability and usability before aesthetics.  However, Norman is saying that they are all equally important.  Perhaps we sometimes need to re-order these focuses in order to create more balanced products that work, work properly, and look beautiful.  

Eva PhilipsComment