They gave us Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things1 to read in interaction design school. I remember reading it and—being young an cocky—finding it all very common sense and “Why do they ask us to read this stuff?” And so on.2
I am rereading it now, in the hopes of sharpening my argument for playful user experiences.
(There are a lot of things I want to blog about actually, such as how Hill and Webb’s adaptive design reminds me of Salen & Zimmerman’s transformative play, why Cook rejects MDA while Saffer embraces it and more.)
Anyway, my new copy of DOET has a nice introduction by Norman in which he summarizes a few core concepts form the book. On page xi—writing on conceptual models—he writes:
“[G]ood design is … an act of communication between the designer and the user, … all the communication has to come about by the appearance of the device itself.”
In other words, if you can’t figure “it” out by just looking at it, it’s not well designed. Where “figure it out” basically means understand how to operate “it” successfully. Of course this is an important concept, but I think something’s missing.
In games, it’s not enough just to be able to figure out how to make Mario jump—for instance—you want to learn how to jump well.
It’s about skill and mastery in other words. A “Norman Door” (a door that is difficult to open) can be fixed so that people can open the door easily. But a door has a narrow spectrum of learnability. Or as Koster would probably say: The pattern to “grok” is really simple.
And anyway, why would you want to become a master at opening doors, right?
But a lot of the things I’m working on (for instance creative tools, but also toy-like environments) have more complex patterns and therefore (wether I like it or not) have a wider spectrum of learnability. And that’s where usability alone is not enough. That’s where in testing, I’d need to make sure people don’t just understand how to do stuff by looking at it. (That’s the start, for sure.) But I also want to be able to tell if people can get better at doing stuff. Because if they get better at it, that’s when they’ll be having fun.