Sometimes it's all about the aesthetics.



Your commentary theme should take Don Norman’s POET work and relate to your own experience with appliances (smart or otherwise) or software applications.

This is my commentary in the theme of POET chapter; therefore I would like to write more about my experience of using appliances or software applications based on concepts of affordances, constraints, conceptual models and other visibility issues.

For the affordances concept, because I am that kind of person who is pretty good at getting the hints of what is the function of a certain part of the device I found this concept very intuitive. In the TV commercials, wrongly designed affordances are normally a part of jokes. In the beer commercial showing a beautiful modern kitchen contains no handle or movable edge in the storage causing the users not able to reach the beer bottles. Usually those design with wrong/unclear affordances do not survive, however my office chair in the lab I am working with does contain confusing control handles with unclear affordances; a handle seems to be designed for pulling up and down actually only allows pulling in certain angle or only allows to rotate. The only salvation for this kind of chairs would be explicitly placement of instructions on the handles.

As to the concept of constraints, since I am responsible for the maintenance of a pc computing farm, I need to replace the parts inside the machine from time to time therefore I have lots of experience on that. A lot of the connectors nowadays do have constraints that indicate that users are only allowed to connect the cable and the device in a certain way or orientation. It’s either physical or descriptive constraint. For the connecters, you can establish the constraints with different shapes for different ends or other tricks like cripple one of the holes to make it impossible to reverse connect. Many ribbon cables also have painted red on the wire number one to prevent wrongly connection.

For the conceptual models, sometimes the communication between the developers of a product and its users can be very difficult. In many cases, a user having different conceptual model than developers’ is due to miscommunication. For example, the first time I booted up my file server with a new Intel RAID controller, the firmware menu asked me “Press a key for RAID BIOS console or any other key to continue”! In this example, the message on the screen doesn’t make any sense. The dialog message didn’t give me any option by pressing any key because two options mentioned are actually the same! We may never know what were those Intel developers thinking, we the users can never understand an instruction with logical flaws.

For visibility issues, designers can make use of mappings and feedbacks to give their users hints how to use it and how is it doing. However mappings can be very culture dependent, in pan-Chinese culture, color red has been used to indicate the stock market is rising and green means regressing market. That’s the opposite of the meaning in western culture. If I am going to be a designer for user interface I probably will reduce the amount of culture things in the mappings. Also the feedback is a very common concept of many appliance or software. People use a lot of LED lights to indicate the power, connectivity, errors and many other things. In software applications people tend to do much more and giving too many information to indicate the system is working. A nice feedback experience on appliances can be illustrated through my SONY MiniDisc player. The hold function, when activated, can ignore the action that users mistakenly pushing any button. But users could be misinformed and having difficulty to tell whether a non-responding machine is due to the power failure or the hold option. SONY is able to get it right: to show a “hold” message on the screen when pushing any button. That is a good feedback. (10/06/05)


1. Don Norman, “the Psychology of Everyday Things” pp1-27

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