In usability circles the doors in the pictures on the right
are called “Norman doors.” Their named
for Donald Norman who wrote a fascinating little book called, The Design
of Everyday Things. In the book Norman talks a great deal about affordances, that is,
properties of objects that help us to do things with them. Like open doors. But the book is also about user-centered design,
that is, the design of affordances in ways that make it easy for people to use
them. In Norman’s world, things are
easiest when we already know how to use them, hardest when we have to read
instructions to figure it out. This
distinction he calls “knowledge in the head” versus “knowledge in the world.”
To get back to those doors, often when we see handles like
the ones in the pictures our instinct is to pull them. After all, that’s what
handles are for. That’s knowledge in the
head at work. The knowledge in the world
says “Push,” but as often as not we don’t see that until the door doesn’t work
like we expect. If this has never
happened to you go find a Norman door (they’re everywhere), sit down and watch
people as they go in and out.
I sometime think of Norman and his doors when I try to do a
survey that has slider bars, drag and drops and other forms of what their
designers like to call “engaging designs.”
It seems to me that I spend as much time trying to figure out how to use
some of the gadgets as I do coming up with answers to the questions. Worse yet,
I see questionnaires that use different gadgets for the same question type. The
survey becomes a puzzle to be solved. Yes, a game. But it’s a game that sucks cognitive energy
away from the real survey task, which is thinking about the subject matter and
answering the questions. I pull on that
Norman door because I’m not thinking about how to open the door. I’m thinking about something else. I
instinctively pull the handle because that’s what handles are for. That is
until the door doesn’t open. Then my
train of thought is interrupted while I solve the problem of how to open the
door. That's what happens when we encounter unfamiliar affordances.
The thing about those boring radio buttons and text boxes in
surveys is that we all know how to use them because they are so ubiquitous on
the Web. For some of us even clicking on
words like Comment, Reply or Follow falls in the same category. It’s second nature to us.
Knowledge in the head at work.
But when is the last time you bought something online that required a
slider bar? We are used to clicking our
state with a drop down and entering dates by popping up little calendars and
clicking on the day, but how often do we drag something into a shopping cart? Or sort things? These devices rely on knowledge in the
world. We should not be surprised that “engaging
designs” often produce different answers and take longer.
If we are going to have better online questionnaires we need
to be sure to focus on the right things. Make questionnaires easier, not harder.