Evolution of Technology (TEC 154 2014S) : Readings
Norman, Donald A. (2013). The Design of Everyday Things, Revised Edition. Basic Books.
Chapter 3. Knowledge in the Head and in the World. Chapter 4. Knowing What to Do: Constraints.
In figure 3.1 on page 75 there is a diagram of pennies and you're supposed to pick the correct image of the coin. I am curious as to how our class did in identifying the penny. Considering the data says that less than half of Americans can identify the right penny, why do you think we are so ignorant of small details such as this coin experience? I was quite surprised how much trouble I had with this exercise. How does Norman explain why we might be so oblivious to certain things, especially ones in which we use everyday? Is it a reasonable explanation? Why or why not?
On pages 134-135 Norman is once again discussing problems with doors, but those of transit systems in particular. He explains that some transit systems require passengers to operate the doors themselves and in others this is forbidden. I worked for the transit system in O'Hare Airport this past summer and our job was specifically to help passengers onto the train. It was forbidden for them to operate the doors and thus we were there to make the boarding process easier. Are there other ways, besides human interaction, that can aid in learning certain cultural norms such as the proper use of doors? This question doesn't just have to deal with doors, but any kind of cultural norms.
In Chapter 3, Norman alludes to how differing cultures affect technology, in his example on page 118 of the "confusing" control in Asia. He attributes this to differing representations of time. In focusing on the engineer, is more cultural awareness necessary to make the technology as wide-reaching and effective? Or is the responsibility in different countries/cultures to update the technology to favor their needs?
On page 48, Norman discusses forcing functions like the drivers authentication before driving going from keys to some sort of electronic confirmation. He states "Forcing functions are the extreme case of strong constraints that can prevent inappropriate behavior." So can these functions serve a political agenda, related to Winner's argument that technology is inherently political?
In chapter 3, it seems Norman is suggesting that knowledge in the world is better than knowledge in the head because it increases ease of use. However, this is not the case with all technology as it would be very difficult to make every action representable. Do you think that it is more important for ease of first use of a technology or more important for individuals to learn how to the use the device and put the knowledge in their heads, rather than in the world?
In chapter 4, Norman is discussing light switches and believes that mapping the switches like he did in his house is the correct way to map light switches. However, some may find this way an ugly way to show the switches as it is a box protruding from the way. My question is which is more important, beauty or functionality in our technology? Or are they equally Important.
To demonstrate the importance of cultural constraints on the design of objects, Norman uses the example of a Lego motorcycle and how recognizing a yellow piece on the front as a headlight is more difficult than it used to be due to modern standards that require white headlights. What are some other examples of cultural constraints in the design of technology?
What is the difference between "knowledge in the world" and "knowledge in the head”? What tradeoffs exists between the two?
Norman believes that its a common tendency in society to stop seeking reasons for a failure once human error is at fault. Do you believe human error is an acceptable reason for failure? Is there anything to prove otherwise? Personally, when you experience a personal failure, what is your initial reaction? Do you blame yourself or the design of the failure?
Norman states that, "to adequately address social, economic, and cultural pressures and to improve upon company policies are the hardest parts of ensuing safe operation and behavior" (Norman, 189). How can you relate this statement to the technology industry as a whole? It seems successful technologies follow certain social, economic, and cultural frameworks. Are the behaviors of these technologies held to the same practical standards that the design is held to?
On page 114 Norman discusses the poor mapping of many stoves with burners, suggesting that if the knobs were in alignment or staggered with the burners it would be a better design. For this situation (where stoves are often a key design piece for the kitchen), isn't the design that is most aesthetically pleasing more desired than the stove that reduces small, inconsequential errors?
On page 126 Norman mentions Microsoft's invention of a cylindrical battery that could be placed into devices in either way. Has this technology been successful? If not, why? (I would love to have this luxury for my remote)
In Norman's discussion of "lockouts" he claims that both computer pop-ups asking if you really want to do the action selected and a company selling a device that only sells certain products are good examples. So the user does not need to recognize a "lockout" for it to be a "lockout"? Would for example, clicking on the file menu before clicking delete also serve as a "lockout"?
In chapter 3, Norman suggests that the combination of technology and people creates "super powerful beings" (p. 112). How has our increased dependence/reliance on technologies (i.e. cell phones, calculators) affected the creation of "super powerful beings"?
Do you agree with his assertion that whenever the knowledge needed of doing a task is readily available in the world, the lesser we need to learn about it? Does he succeed in answering his own question of how a designer can put knowledge into a design itself? (p. 77).
Norman suggests that a revolt is needed to counter the large amount of passwords/arbitrary things we need to remember. However, he recognizes his uncertainty at what a possible solution could be to our current system besides massive cultural change. Turning to our previous readings, what might Weinburg suggest as a solution? Or more interestingly, what would Berry suggest?
The idea of using constraints to force desired results from users brought up in chapter 4 emphasizes the idea that one can make the user act a certain way if the technology is so designed. Could this be used to support Winner's thesis that technologies are inherently political? How would Winner respond to Norman's admittance that indeed designers do attempt to elicit certain behaviors/actions from their users?
In chapter 3, Knowledge in the Head and in the World, Norman asks “what happens when we rely too much upon external knowledge, be it knowledge in the world, knowledge of friends, or knowledge provided by our technology?” (112) But prior to this he displays a conversation between different friends and how each persons association is different from each other and is changeable. Would he claim that external knowledge or knowledge provided by our technology would change each persons tract in getting to an idea and make it more similar from person to person? Or would this independent way of reaching a point be cut down to fewer steps?
In chapter 4, Knowing What to Do: Constraints, Discoverability, and Feedback, Norman states the absence of sound can mean the absence of knowledge…silence can lead to problems” (157). Though, on page 160, Norman talks about sounds that are created to have a Lack of Annoyance because they will be “heard frequently.” What would he say about the ability to tune out commonly heard sounds such as sirens? Would he say this is an absence of knowledge, if not how would he classify this?
How might we compare and contrast Petroski and Norman’s views on the role of failure in development?
How would Berry (Never buying a computer) respond to Norman’s proposed solutions for light switches? Are there any design answers covered yet in the book that meet Poole’s criteria? How can we assess Norman’s view’s of innovation and progress outside the scope he provides?
Norman discusses the idea that everyday "misunderstandings are classified as 'naive'" even if they are in congruent with common sense. So, how has technology reinforced or challenged understandings of common sense?
This questions is a rather broader one, but it was sparked from the readings. Are all technologies created with the purpose of solving a task/accomplishing a goal?
In Chapter 3, Norman mentions how security measures affect the utility of technologies. He uses the auto-logout feature of nurses' computer terminals as an example. The computers log out after a period of idleness to protect patient privacy. Because of this nurses, who are frequently interrupted, rely on handwriting, which the computer was designed to replace. What other compromises do we make for security that harm functionality?
In our experience with technology, what other aspects of design and usage are sacrificed for the sake of security? Are these technologies still worth it?
How are Logical Constraints, as described by norman on page 130, any different than general cognitive processes?
What is 'Human Centered Design'? Norman refers to it throughout the book, citing that it will be explained in Chapter 6, but doesn't define it clearly.
Norman, in Chapter 3, predicts that human-technological interaction will be culminated in "touch-screen and control pads." What is the more likely final interface technology of the future? Will voice or eye control take the lead, of will hand remain our most trusted way to interact with our technology?
Chapter 4 discusses some of the indirect knobs, buttons, and switches we play with to manipulate our technology. He talks about outdated mechanisms we use. Is there a certain factor of enjoyment or satisfaction that comes from certain switches and buttons?
Although mnemonic devices are useful for retaining and memorizing knowledge that one has barely been exposed to, couldn't there be situations in which formulating and using a mnemonic device would be just as, if not more, confusing than just trying to memorize the knowledge itself? (p. 93-94)
If skeuomorphic supposedly help ease the transition from old designs to new ones, but the new designs that are eventually settled on end up bearing little or no resemblance to the skeuomorphic ones, wouldn't people who cling to the older designs of the past that the skeuomorphic designs sought to imitate still be bothered by the new designs? (p. 159)
Copyright (c) 2014 Samuel A. Rebelsky.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. To view a copy of this license, visit
or send a letter to Creative Commons, 543 Howard Street, 5th Floor,
San Francisco, California, 94105, USA.