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More Norman Doors

Topics/tags: Rants, design, short

In his The Psychology of Everyday Things [1], Donald Norman introduces the concept of Norman Doors; doors whose design leads people to make mistakes when they try to open them. It may be that there’s a full-door bar and the hinges are invisible, leading someone to push on the wrong side [2]. It may be that there’s the same handle on both sides, making it unclear whether your goal is to push or to pull. I’m pretty sure that everyone has had a Norman Door experience of some sort.

Yesterday I observed a new kind of Norman Door [4]. I was on a panel, which meant that in addition to looking out on the participants, I was also looking at the back of the room. Because the doors were glass, so I could see each person who tried to come into the room late. For the first five minutes, every person first tried to pull the doors. They failed. Then they tried to push the doors. They failed. Eventually, someone in the room would come over and let them in.

A set of glass doors; the doors have clearly
designated handles, set amidst a central frosted area

What was wrong? It turns out that they were sliding doors. The trick was to use the handle to move the door to the right or left, as appropriate. The design of handles for those doors is tricky. Our inclination is to push or pull doors. I’m not sure how you clearly indicate to someone that you need to slide rather than push or pull. As I look at them again, I do see why people pulled the doors; it’s clear that they were in front of the side panels. But sliding? I’m not sure.

Looking again, I do see that they make the tracks on the floor fairly obvious. But it’s clear that it’s not obvious enough. An interesting design problem, to be sure.


Postscript: Why do the images I take on my iPhone always end up right-side-up on my computer and up-side-down on the Web? Oh well. That’s why there’s ImageMagick.


[1] That book has a great acronym, POET. Unfortunately, it didn’t sell well under that title. It did much better when renamed to The Design of Everyday Things.

[2] Someday I’ll dig up the issue of The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers in which Fat Freddy crashes into a glass wall that is indistinguishable from the doors around it. [3]

[3] Found it!

Three 'hippy' cartoon characters in trench coats walking through doors.  The ones on the left and right have opened the doors.  The one in the middle has crashed into a glass wall separating the two doors.

It appears that the handles and hinges were clearly designated; a reasonably good design of glass doors. But I’ll still maintain my mental image of Fat Freddy in the middle.

[4] Or, more precisely, a type of Norman Door that is new to me.


*Version 1.0 released 2018-08-10.

*Version 1.0.1 of 2018-08-23.