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The Design of Everyday Things

Notes on The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.
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As I am deep reading like this, there's a lot of divergent ideas that come up. It's a really important part of my creative process. I get ideas for new projects, realizations about my life and my work. I think sometimes when you can be in a state of 'looking things up' while reading and it happens on various time scales. You can do a quick search on the Internet or you can open a book to quickly read through it or through a specific chapter. Mortimer J. Adler calls this type of reading, "Inspectional Reading". Mortimer wrote a book in the early 1960's titled, 'How to Read a Book'. It's a technical guide on how to use a (difficult) book as a tool for deep contemplation on ideas and ultimately to rise to a higher level of understanding.

As I'm making notes in this Journal about Don Norman's book on design. I'm having a lot of divergent thoughts. Thoughts on human perception. Thoughts on the various tools I use frequently. Questions like, what are all of the objects I own? What do I think of the quality of them and why? I have thoughts on meditation and human consciousness and its role within the process of design. Zen and its role in the process of design. As I continue to contemplate the subjects in this book more deeply, it is obvious that things I do in the future will be informed by these contemplations. I want to be able to link back to and link out of this Journal in some way. Some way to reference back to this entry in the future or to drop it into another Journal.

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Why do we need to know about the human mind? Because things are designed to be used by people, and without a deep understanding of people, the designs are apt to be faulty, difficult to use, difficult to understand. That is why it is useful to consider the seven stages of action. The mind is more difficult to comprehend than actions. Most of start by believing we already understand both human behavior and the human mind. After all, we are all human: we have all lived with ourselves all of our lives, and we think we understand ourselves. As a result, many of our beliefs about how people behave – including beliefs about ourselves – are wrong. That is why we have multiple social and behavioral sciences, with a good dash of mathematics, economics, computer science, information science, and neuroscience.

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"I learned root cause analysis at a young age and thought everyone asked "why?" - turns out, nobody really does!"

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There are two paths to an action: executing the action and then evaluating the results: doing and interpreting. Both execution and evaluation require understanding: how the item works and what results it produces. Both execution and evaluation can affect our emotional state.

I spent the last 10 years working in filmmaking (but I was always close to computers and computer science concepts) and then more recently taught myself how to code which has been a great way in understanding how to talk to computers. As I learned to talk to computers, I learned a lot about how computers are different than people. One of the most interesting things about people is how emotional we are. It seems we care about logic and right or wrong like a computer, but inputs and outputs in human communication can be very emotional. You could be saying the same thing as someone else, but how you say it can determine understanding and effectiveness. I think in that sense, design considers the logical activity someone is trying to perform and also their various emotional responses at each stage of performing that activity.

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You bridge the Gulf of Execution, through the use of signifiers, constraints, mappings, and a conceptual model. We bridge the Gulf of Evaluation through the use of feedback and a conceptual model.

It's cool how Don built up all of these concepts first and then connected them through the concept of these two Gulfs. I'll need to define each one of these things (signifiers, mappings, etc.) in my own words and in a way that is contextual to the work I'm doing right now.

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A designer's challenge is:

1. Taking someone from being able to not to do something to doing it by helping the user answer the questions, "How do I do this?" and "What can I do?" (manipulation).

2. Responding correctly to the questions, "What happened?" and "Is this what I wanted?" after the object has been manipulated by the user (feedback).

Don Norman defines these two challenges as, "the Gulf of Execution" and "the Gulf of Evaluation".

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Design is difficult because you're trying to find a balance within forces and disciplines that are essential but that also can pull in opposing directions. Something that is well designed finds a harmony within this chaos ultimately leading to the creation of something people love.

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New technology has an inherent paradox. It can improve our lives and give us brand new abilities. And at the same time it can add unnecessary complexities, addictions and frustrations into our lives.

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It's really useful to isolate the process / experience like this.

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Feedback

Feedback is essentially when something communicates the result of an action. It needs to be planned and tasteful. If the right type and amount of feedback can be gratifying, too much or the wrong type can be confusing and anxiety inducing.

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Mapping

Mapping is a design concept in which you try to organize signifiers in a way that corresponds to a spatial analogy. Since spatial analogies are already understood by the user they can lead to an immediate understanding of the new interface they are controlling.

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The difference between Affordance and Signifiers and why as a designer it is important to understand Affordance but then focus primarily on Signifiers.

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In a lot of ways you can interpret this as saying design is the combination of selecting affordance and then manipulating them through signifiers.

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Interesting example here of a flat surface being used as a means to collect trash. This was not intentional but is happening because of its location relative to the stairs and because it is flat so it can support items.

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Affordances and Signifiers

- Affordances are the possible interactions between people and the environment. Some affordances are perceivable, others are not.
- Perceived affordances often act as signifiers, but they can be ambiguous.
- Signifiers signal things, in particular what actions are possible and how they should be done. Signifiers must be perceivable, else they fail to function.

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Thinking in terms of activity-centric design; it seems what you do on Futureland is journaling. Futureland allows you to create a journal for anything. It can be a journal for gardening or designing interfaces or writing code or anything really. There's a lot benefits to doing this and often we naturally find ourselves documenting things when we really care about them. Journals have benefits in learning in reflection and a lot of other things.

This is the activity that we need to focus on and everything we do should be designed for that activity.

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Apple's success was due to its combination of two factors: brilliant design plus support for the entire activity of music enjoyment.

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The American Psychologists Charles Carver and Michael Scheier suggest that goals have three fundamental levels of control activities:

Be-goals
Do-goals
Motor-goals

I'll write more on this later

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Activity-centered design

This concept from the book was eye-opening and it's something I want to understand more and run my own experiments on. The general insight is that although humans can be very different as individuals, in large they are very similar in the activities they perform. Through a hyper focus on activities and not the individual person, you can create things that are useful to many more people.

This is why things like automobiles, cameras, computers, telephones, tablets, television sets, and refrigerators are the same in every country. Their designs are hyper focused on the 'activities' you do with them. And these activities transcend most cultural or individual differences.

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This seems very similar to my current process of iterating on my understanding through experimentation, making things and writing.

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Meditation and Design

It can be difficult to remember that everything around you is designed by someone. The phone in your hand, the layout of a particular space, the way someone is speaking, a song. Meditation can be useful in that it creates a heightened awareness of all the human selections and decisions around you.

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internetvin The Design of Everyday Things