Interfacing with taps • 19 August 2008 • The SnowBlog

Interfacing with taps

Lately, one of the books Ive been visiting in my spare moments has been the semi-classic Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman. Theres something very satisfying about reading the catalogue of bad designs which led D. Norman to put quill to parchment. Less thrilling, but rather unsurprising, is that what prompted Donald to begin the book was an extended stay in Britain where he was regularly baffled by which light-switch controlled which set of lights, or which combination of button pushes would put a telephone caller on hold. Youd think, like a stand-up comedian doing a routine about the difference between cats and dogs, there wouldnt be much to say about the design of taps, light-switches, phone keypads and door knobs but actually this book, which is now twenty years old, is full of critical observations which still apply and simple recommendations which still need taking up. Unfortunately, that twenty year delay across which Donalds words are reaching us means his scorn is frequently ladled upon video recorders, cassette decks and computers which give you a more or less blank screen when you start them up. He tackles the eternal problem of the right height for a typewriter desk. Hes right to imagine that one day an undo function would make computers less frustrating to use, hes farsighted to imagine that the Apple Macintosh might hint at a more user-friendly interface, but its difficult to read anyones advice on software design after theyve felt the need to explain what a mouse is and what you do with it. But (and you might have to take my word for this) theres quite a bit of fun to be had re-imagining plumbing, electrical and interior design bad habits once youve read what he has to say about doors, youll be all set to design your own but I recommend skipping over any mention of consumer electronics or computing. In 2002, when Donald Norman took a look at the first edition, he decided that all it needed was a more up-to-date introduction. He even changed the title on the front cover without feeling the need to do a search-and-replace on the text itself. What he really should have done was to roll his sleeves up and drag the manuscript in to the twenty-first century. But given that he hasnt, you can still have quite a bit of fun with the original edition.


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