Norman Doors: Don’t Know Whether to Push or Pull? Blame Design


How often do you pull a two way door that says push or vice versa? Why is it that many of us make this weird mistake? Some doors require printed instructions to operate, while others are so poorly designed that they lead people to do the exact opposite of what they need to in order to open them. Their shapes or details may suggest that pushing should work, when in fact pulling is required (or the other way around). Roman Mars teamed up with Joe Posner of Vox to interview Don Norman and bring you this story of terrible doors:

A so-called “Norman Door” has design elements that give you the wrong usability signals to the point that special signage is needed to clarify how they work. Without signs, a user is left guessing about whether to push or pull, creating needless frustration.

There is no reason for these backward designs to persist, since various working solutions to the problem already exist, and yet these horrible doors are still all around us in the built environment.

This peculiar design problem is part of what motivated Don Norman               (hence: Norman Door) to write his now-classic book The Design of Everyday Things. Similar issues can be found in other everyday objects as well, from light switches and sink handles, which frequently feature counter-intuitive functions or modes of operation.

An advocate of user-centric (or: people-oriented) design, Norman offers insights that bring together aspects of usability, engineering, and cognitive science. His book provides an enlightening look into the intersection of these disciplines and design, informative and educational for users and designers alike.

So, it turns out, the doors are wrong—not you!


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