Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Attractive Things Work Better

I've always liked Don Norman. Well, I should say I've always liked his work, because I've never met him (though he seems nice enough). Learning material from The Design of Everyday Things in a third year computer science class was like a breath of fresh air, satisfying my creative side. I was able to revisit the concepts a bit when I wrote a term paper recently for my computers and cognition class. And now, thanks to my Amazon wish list (and my mom), I get to read Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things and The Design of Future Things.

There are a couple of excerpts from Emotional Design that have already caught my attention, and I wanted to share them with you.

The first interesting point is about why attractive things work better. It seems research has revealed that "attractive things make people feel good, which in turn makes them think more creatively." This is because people who feel good are able to think about a larger variety of solutions and don't suffer from tunnel vision. They are thus able to more successfully solve problems they encounter with a product.
In today's world of computer-controlled products, doing the same operation over again is very unlikely to yield better results. The correct response is to look for alternative solutions. The tendency to repeat the same operation over again is especially likely for those who are anxious or tense.
This makes good sense to me. I immediately think of myself working on a school project. Most of the time I am calm, and I just try various things until I get something - anything - to work. But when I have a deadline and my code won't work and my eyes are tired and sore and I want to scream... that's a whole other story. Definite tunnel vision there, and trying the same thing over. And over. And over.

This except from a few pages later explains the phenomenon further.
Positive affect arouses curiosity, engages creativity, and makes the brain into an effective learning organism. With positive affect, you are more likely to see the forest than the trees, to prefer the big picture and not to concentrate upon details. On the other hand, when you are sad or anxious, feeling negative affect, you are more likely to see the trees before the forest, the details before the big picture.

Video games are one of the illustrative examples discussed later.
The device that used to be specialized for the playing of video games takes on different appearances, depending upon its intended function. ... In the living room, it fits with the furniture and books and becomes a reference manual, perhaps an encyclopedia, tutor, and player of reflective games (such as go, chess, cards, word games). And for the student, it is a source of simulations, experiments, and extensive exploration of interesting, well-motivated topics, but topics carefully chosen so that, in the process of enjoying the adventure, you automatically learn the fundamentals of your field. Designs appropriate to the audience, the location, and the purpose. Everything I have described here is doable. It simply hasn't been done yet.
I wonder if I'm the only person to read the above and think just how perfect augmented reality would be for all of this!

Anyway, I'm looking forward to continuing in this book as well as Future Things. In the meantime, I leave you with a video of Don Norman speaking at TED a few years back. It was tweeted, coincidentally, at the same I started the book. Hope it gets you as excited about the topic as it did me!


2 comments:

woogie said...

The idea interests me, but I find myself suddenly struck by the contrapositive. How do you design something in order to keep users away, or to suppress their curiosity?

Particular incident I'm thinkin of is when I ran A/V back in highschool. We had a guest speaker coming, in so we wired him up with a wireless mic unit and a fresh 9v. As a matter of course, we then swathed the controls, switches etc. in duct tape in order to keep him out. The unit was left 'On', to ensure that nothing could go wrong. All we'd have to do is unmute his sound channel once he walked out.

What happened instead is that before he even walked into the auditorium, he'd dug through the duct tape, found the power switch, and turned it off. When he got out, there was the usual 5 or 6 seconds of floundering, at which point one of us had to do the auditorium run to put the power switch back to on.

Much to our chagrin, even a butt-ugly, "keep out" interface couldn't prevent our user from mussing about. Is there any design short of a physical lock that can keep a user away from controls?

Gail Carmichael said...

Ha, great story! :) This idea of having negative affect for particular purposes is actually discussed in the book. I've only got through the first couple of so far chapters and don't have an answer to your question (yet?). But I'm definitely going to keep it in mind for a possible future post! :D

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