Why Design Psychology Matters: Episode 1


I have been reading Don Norman’s ‘The Design of Everyday things’ and found myself asking when I will actually apply any of the principles he mentions. Of them, my favorite remains ‘The self incrimination Principle’ (a name I made up). Basically, if a user has a problem with a product, it’s not the user’s fault. It’s the designer, regardless of how ‘trivial’ the product might be. Having trouble with  the shower nob? Blame the designer. Pushing a door when it should actually be pulled? Designer. Don Norman hits the sweet spot. If designers start to think like this, they do better human centered design.

So in that spirit, here in an anecdote.

I had the opportunity to get involved in some autism research at my work. CAR (Center for Autism Research) in Philadelphia decided to develop a name recognition tool to aid in autism diagnoses. Basically, if a child does not respond to his/her name, it’s an indication of autism (or that is the research hypothesis of CAR) and the application would prompt a parent to record their children (while they are busy playing or doing some other activity), call their name and then input whether they responded.

Though the application was done, I found myself spending a large amount of time making tutorials. This is where human centered design comes in. This app should be usable by a person who has very little technical experience.

So take a look at this slide of the tutorial: (excuse the art, they are just placeholders)


Very few people had trouble actually using the app and said it was quite simple. But I saw one or two people – upon swiping to this slide of the tutorial – trying to click the picture of the red button. Clearly it is not a button. Clearly this is a slide show. A T.U.T.O.R.I.A.L. Facepalm. What are they? Stupid?

No, the designer is stupid. I am stupid. I should have known (in android at least), what looks like a button is usually a button and there is an impulsive inner conscience that makes a user click a button – even if it is not a button. That red button is a WRONG signifier. A bait. A red herring and shouldn’t be there.

When designers start thinking this way, our products begin to change. You as the designer have spent considerable time with  your product. So of course you know the ins and outs. But does your user? Real human beings are going to use it, not mind readers or hackers.

People are rarely at fault when they cannot use a product the right way.

Design is the problem, but human centered design is the solution.


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