Sunday 6 March 2016

Design for life

After watching a short film about Don Norman and his doors, I laid a broad hint on my family and admirers to buy me a copy of The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. Which is available on Amazon but costing rather more than 0.01c.  It was first published  as The Psychology of Everyday Things and acquired the acronym POET.  But his editor at Basic Books told Norman that the title was badly designed because it would get shelved in the Psychology section and browsing buyers would be better served if he s/Psychology/Design/ and the book was republished as DOET.  And it was so. Then I thought it might be available in the library at The Institute. And it was so; and I've been reading with a sense of resonance and B'god Whistler I wish I'd said that.

The Institute?  I met crap design causing them mortification before I ever worked there. They won a national competition to launch a new course in Bioinformatics and I was part of the committee sent down to see if the course they cobbled together was really up to scratch and could be accredited by the appropriate central authority.  We committee-chaps (nearly half women!) were put up in the local hotel and wined and dined the night before, but started in to a day's work the following morning. Assembled in the most presentably high-tech small lecture theatre, we were scheduled to listen to an extensive round of presentations about how technically competent the course and its lecturers would make the students. But nobody in the room could switch on the projector! Oooh irony. But it wasn't really their fault so much as the projector being poorly designed. When you switched it on, nothing happened, so the temptation was to press the on/go button again  . . . which switched it off.  An impatient third press started the initialisation procedure again but there was no external signal from the box that the signal has been received and was being acted upon . . . please be patient.  Not even an audible click. The IT guy was called and sorted it out: mainly by making everyone sit down and stop doing things.  We did give them appro for the course.

Now I work there and my office, which I share with two others, looks out over an extensive view of . . . the canteen.  I never look out, because I'm always too busy at my desk, but I know when it's Friday because the smell of fried fish roils in from the kitchen. I nip out there several times a day to get hot water for tea and have to go through a pair of double doors that open only one way. They are fire-doors, so have a little crack-occluding flange on one of the doors: when they are properly closed there is no draught to feed the fire. But people are always opening the wrong door, so that when they close automatically the flange-door closes last and so doesn't close properly. We are a small community, you'd think that 6 months into the new academic year everyone would have twigged how to open the right door so that they both close properly. But no, the design makes it took difficult for ordinarily intelligent folk.  It's up to me, because I'm the only person who cares/notices to reshuffle the doors when I go through.  They don't pay me enough!

On the other hand my Toyota Yaris has a really obvious design feature in the sound system - a conspicuous slot above the radio tuner than cried out for a CD to be inserted.  As Norman points out in his book, slots are for inserting things into.  The fact that I couldn't see it was mainly because I grew up in an era before CDs and cars came together.

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