Doors and the Design of Everyday Things

A door that defies basic usage principles

A door that defies basic usage principles

Over the past week I have been reading The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman, a book about how product designs can hinder their functionality.

Using his background in psychology, Norman explores how people perceive and interact with objects they encounter in their daily life, paying particular attention to how the design of those objects often trip up the user.

An example that Norman often refers to is doors. When a person approaches a door, they must use visual cues to determine how to open the door (where to grab the door, whether to push/pull/slide, etc.). Apparently after the initial release of his book, some people began referring to baffling doors as “Norman doors.”

Well, this weekend I came across a Norman door (see photo at beginning of post).

If you look at the door handle, you may ascertain that this is a twist down and pull open scenario, not terribly uncommon.

I twisted down and pulled. Nothing happened. I looked at the handle for a moment, tried twisting down and pulling again. Nothing happened. I noticed the sign: “Turn handle up to open.” (At least someone thoughtfully provided ancillary instructions. Otherwise I may have resorted to banging on the door and calling for help.) I turned the handle up, pulled, and the door opened.

I did what any (easily amused, usability obsessed) person would do. I whipped out my iPhone and snapped a photo.

Then I stepped to the door, twisted the handle down, and pulled. Nothing happened. That’s how quickly a user forgets non-standard, forced learning behavior, folks!

Moral: Don’t let your product become a Norman product.


1 Comment

  1. Alina said,

    Wednesday, March 25, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Ok, this is too funny. Almost three years ago, we had issues in our office (after I would go home for the day) as to which way the lock should face for the door to be locked and require someone to answer the door. I will send you the power point I had posted on the door and I made notations on the actual lock and door so with the notches aligned, it would be locked!!!

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