Bad Doors, Human-Centered Design, and Why an Interface Matters


Have you ever had to deal with something that just seems poorly designed? The world is replete with such objects—some of them glaringly so. We post pictures for our friends to see and laugh at them on Facebook. Other poorly designed objects are more subtle. For example, most of us, at one point or another, have encountered a door meant to be pushed, which gives us all the subliminal signals that we should pull it instead. While watching “idiots” try to navigate these doors can be entertaining, it turns out, it’s not their (or your) fault - it’s the door’s.
Don Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things and professor of several disparate disciplines including Electrical Engineering and Psychology, has dedicated a good deal of his time to examining what it is about some doors—as well as other objects that don’t fit into our schema like they should—that makes us prone to attempting to use them in an unviable manner. In fact, he’s spent so much time on the doors specifically, that they have become known in design circles as “Norman Doors”. A Norman Door, simply put, is merely one that sends humans the wrong signals about how to operate it. Don Norman argues that many things are designed in this uninspiring manner, and that to correct this, we need to focus on what he calls “Human Centered Design”.
Human Centered Design is, shockingly, the idea that when we design things, we should do so with the end-user—ie, humans—in mind. Norman has discovered that there are two main principles which make a design “good” from a Human Centered Design perspective: discoverability and feedback. Discoverability refers to the cues an item sends when it is approached. To fall back on our example of the door, if a door has a long, horizontal bar or panel, it lends itself to being pushed, and that is the action most people are first going to attempt when they approach it. If, however, it has a vertical handle—particularly a short one—located near the opening edge, the human brain interprets it as a door that should be pulled upon in order to cause it to open. Discoverability is important because it speaks to our intuition about how an object should be used. No one wants to have to read a user manual in order to open a door! Or anything else, for that matter.
Norman’s second principle, feedback, is a bit more complicated. If discoverability is an object communicating how it should be used, feedback is it giving us a pat on the head for using it correctly. So the door, when all goes smoothly, opens when we interpret its cues correctly. When we insert a quarter into the bubblegum machine and turn the handle, we are rewarded by a gumball dropping in the retrieval bay. Or, by flipping the light switch, we make the light come on. In order to be effective, feedback needs to be consistent (ie, if action x is completed, result y is accomplished, every time) and ideally within close temporal proximity to the causal event. So, if you turn the light switch and 10-15 minutes later the light comes on, the feedback is ineffective and does not illuminate (no pun intended) a clear path between the action of flipping the switch and the result of the light coming on. It all makes one feel a little like one of Pavlov’s dogs, doesn’t it?
While all of this is fascinating to discuss, it does not, at first glance, seem to have much practical application for most people—sure, it may help us feel better about continually being stumped by that one door at our favorite store, but how many of us are ever going to need to design an item for mass consumption? We most likely don’t even have a say over how the items we interact with daily are designed.
It turns out, there is an area that the principles of discoverability and feedback are put to use, and that is the interfaces we use for online learning. Whether in a formal setting, such as a classroom or a corporate training module, or an informal one such as a discussion forum for a subject that intrigues us, we all learn things online these days.

An intuitive interface that is responsive to the user can make all the difference between whether or not one’s experience is positive or negative—or even whether or not one is able to learn in the setting.

Edvance360 has recently revamped their interface to be more user-friendly and responsive to both learners and faculty. The new interface meets many of Don Norman’s specifications for Human Centered Design. With easily accessible accordion menus, colorful dashboards that immediately show items or data needing attention, one-click access to learning paths, and intuitively arranged headings, the interface allows users to quickly find what they are looking for. For instructors, customization features for the class can easily be toggled on or off. And, to make sure you never miss anything, the interface now sends notifications which are displayed in the top right corner of your screen in order to keep you up to speed (much like Facebook).  Even better, it is designed to function on phones and tablets the same way that it does on a traditional computer, so users can seamlessly switch back and forth among devices, without having to hunt for an item in a new location, just because you are accessing the platform from your phone rather than your computer. For more information about the new Version 8 interface, click here.
While we are doomed to suffer injustice at the hands of poorly designed doors—at least some of the time—we at Edvance360 want to make things as straightforward as possible whenever we can. Ensuring that programs we have to use daily are user-friendly and designed from a Human Centered perspective can make our lives just a little bit smoother.
Ready to toss out your current LMS for one that better appeals to your learners? Contact us today, or 866-458-0360.