January 09, 2006

Experiencing design

from - RSA

For the past couple of years I've been writing a column for Interfaces, the quarterly newsletter of the British HCI (Human-Computer Interaction) Group. My column is called Experiencing Design and is aimed at people interested in HCI practice and education. I try to make the material accessible to a non-technical audience; for anyone who might be interested, below are a few introductory paragraphs from my latest effort, with a pointer to the complete column at the bottom.

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Experiencing Design: Fearful Symmetry

With his wonderful book, The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman ensured that a generation of interaction designers would be acutely aware of the layout of. . .stove tops. The concept of a natural mapping is now a familiar one: if the spatial arrangement of the knobs on a stove matches that of the burners, it is easy to see which knob corresponds to which burner. The correspondence between a square of burners and a line of knobs, on the other hand, is ambiguous and can lead to potentially disastrous usage errors.

My students offer comparable everyday examples of mapping problems:

The clothes dryers in the laundry rooms here on campus are poorly designed. They are arranged in pairs, with a single coin slot and controls between each pair. More than once, I have put in money and pressed the button to start the wrong dryer. If the other dryer is already being used by someone else, it is impossible to move your own clothes into it. I have ended up paying for other people's clothes to dry by mistake at least twice this semester!

One of the elevators I use has a "walk through" design, with two sets of doors opposite each other. The elevator buttons are in two columns on a panel beside one set of doors. On the bottom row of the panel is a pair of buttons, side by side, for opening and closing one set of doors; the row just above controls the other set of doors. The problem is that there's no easy way to tell which row of buttons is for which doors, so when someone is running to catch the elevator as the doors close, and I reach out to push a button, I can't tell which is the right one.

(continued. . .)

Posted by RSA at January 9, 2006 10:58 AM
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