2 - The Psychology of Everyday Actions

The opening anecdote is of an old lady who struggled to open the drawer of a filing cabinet, who indicated "I'm sorry. I am so bad at mechanical things." This is ludicrous, because it's a drawer, and should be simple to open - whoever designed that drawer ought to be apologizing to her for being bad (or at least indifferent) with people.

Human psychology is a critical element of working with devices. The reason we take an action is to obtain something we desire, which is caused my motivation and cognition. The reason we feel frustrated with a device that doesn't allow us to do what we want is because of the extra effort we must undertake to figure the device out, as well as damage to our self-esteem for being unable to do it - though the latter is a false sense of guilt, which should be visited upon the designer rather than the user.

When we encounter a device that doesn't work properly, we seek to find a way to correct the problem. For the stuck drawer, the author helped:

All of this follows a number of psychological processes: perception, analysis, imagination, and other processes that are used to develop an understanding of a situation and envision an action that will help us achieve the goal. This engages a number of rational and emotional processes with which designers should be more familiar.

How People Do Things: Evaluation and Execution (and Evaluation)

People who attempt to use a device face two "gulfs" they must bridge: the gulf of execution in which they try to figure out what to do, and the gulf of evaluation where they try to understand what happened as a result of an action they took. These are both very important processes for designers to understand, as their job is to accommodate them.

The problem with the stuck drawer shows an instance in which the gulf of execution was quickly crossed (at a glance, the handle communicated "pull to open"), but when that didn't work, the gulf of evaluation opened wide. Ideally, the drawer would have opened, and he would have recognized that the action had the desired effect - and would likely not even be conscious of having made that evaluation.

But when the drawer did not open as expected, he had to pause to consider what the problem might be, try a different action, and repeat until he had the problem solved.

He reiterates his chagrin that people often consider themselves to be to blame when a device does not work as expected - as if it is their fault that they are unable to open a badly-designed drawer. But the problem generally lies with the device rather than the user. People do what makes sense to them, based on their experience (which the designer should seek to understand), or based on the appearance of the device (which the designer fully controls).

And in that sense, common items that people use to perform simple tasks should not have a learning curve. They should make sense at a glance, and meet expectations for proper use.

The Seven Stages of Action

The execution-evaluation model has been described in terms of its function, but it also coincides with emotional states. It its most basic sense, the user is not happy when he approaches a device because he lacks something that he wants. He becomes happy when the device gives him what he wants, or more unhappy when it does not.

He also mentions that the degree of anxiety depends on the experience we have at a task. The suburban driver is in a state of near-panic when he needs to parallel park a car because it's something he very rarely does. The urban driver is accustomed to the task and does it without a great deal of anxiety or mental effort.

The author then considers a seven-stage model for human action:

  1. Goal - The user is aware of something he wishes to achieve (I need more light to read)
  2. Plan - The user has a vague sense of what he needs to do it (switch on a lamp)
  3. Specify - The user understands the actions they must do (reach over with my right hand and twist the knob beneath the bulb)
  4. Perform - The user undertakes the actions (he reaches over and twists the knob)
  5. Perceive - The user recognizes the change in the device (the bulb is not glowing)
  6. Interpret - The user recognizes the practical change (the room is now brighter)
  7. Compare - The user compares the outcome with his goal (the room is bright enough for me to read)

If all goes well, this is fluid and occurs without thought. But all may not go well - perhaps he needs to press the knob rather than turn it, or the knob is just out of reach, or the bulb doesn't glow enough, or it glows but not brightly enough for him to be able to read, or the lamp falls over when he touches it. These events cause him to need to take additional actions (get up, replace the bulb, twist the knob twice more, etc.)

The simplest devices often require a very simple action (flip a switch), but more complex ones may involve multiple actions (for an oven, twist one knob to set the temperature then twist another to bake). A complex device, such as a personal computer, may require numerous sequences to perform a task (to type and print a letter requires turning it on, logging in, finding the application, creating a new file, typing content, saving the file, sending it to a printer - and the printer has a whole series of actions that must be performed).

Many of the tasks we perform are meant to accomplish sub-goals. The person who turns on a lamp does not wish merely to make the room brighter, but is doing the task so that he may do another task: he wants to read a book. This can be investigated further because he is not reading a book merely to read the book, but for another reason. So he turns on the lamp to read the book, reads the book to gain knowledge, gains knowledge to have competence, has competence in order to impress his boss, impresses his boss to be regarded as a value to the firm, etc. You can, and likely should, ask "why?" until you get to the ultimate goal that the user is attempting to achieve.

(EN: This gets a little tricky, and a bit annoying, because ultimately the goal that people have is either to alleviate their fear about changes to a status that they wish to maintain, or to make changes to a status that does not please them, and the reason for that is highly emotional or psychological. In many instances, they don't know or won't admit to the actual driver.)

He further distinguishes between planned goals (which were considered in advance) and opportunistic ones (which occurred to a person at the moment). In many instances, goals arise from circumstance - when we are talking with a friend and someone mentions a new cafe, we are struck by a desire to have lunch at that cafe, though it had not been something that occurred to us before that very moment. In some instances, the opportunistic goal may overtake other goals we had made (to have lunch at our desk) because it seems like a better idea.

(EN: The same can be said of plans: upon approaching a door we may plan to push it to gain access to the space beyond - but as we get closer and see the shape of the handle, we may change our plan and pull instead. In such an instance, forging ahead with our original plan would be foolish.)

There are instances in life where we set off without a specific plan (consider a vacation, or a day in the park) and other instances in which plans change (we plan our tasks for the working day, but end up doing none of them).

This tendency to change goals does not invalidate the seven-stages model. In a general sense, when we change our goals, we go through the same stages.

This model is also a reliable guideline for developing goods or services: given that the consumer has a goal, how can we design a product to help him achieve it? What are his expectations at the onset? Where might he change his mind? It can also be used to identify instances in which we may be able to improve existing products or even introduce radical new ones.

He goes to the hackneyed expression that people don't want to buy a hammer, they just want to drive a nail. They may assume that a hammer is what is needed to achieve driving the nail, but you may be able to offer them a better device to do it. Or you might take another step back to ask why they want to drive the nail (to hold two pieces of wood together, to hang a picture, etc.) and discover a new way to meet that goal (glue the pieces together, use an adhesive to hang the picture, etc.)

Human Thought: Mostly Subconscious

Most designers have no formal training in behavioral psychology, yet assume that they understand human behavior. In most instances, they attempt to explain human behavior by a rational process of thought - that a person who wants to do something goes through a cognitive process to decide what to do. Most people do not do this - they act on impulse, with very little thought.

(EN: I have some disagreement with this, based on other readings. People want things for reasons they are unaware - so desire is impulsive - but when they take action to achieve their desires, this is in fact cognitive. The exception is when they have experience and have created mental shortcuts: we flip a switch to turn on a light because we have done that before. It's more unconscious than subconscious, and the two are very different concepts.)

When we apply a mental model that involves perfect awareness and perfect logic, we are creating a plausible fiction. It becomes even more specious when we describe the things that we have done in the past, as our ego gets in the way and attempts to suggest we had higher motives and a more rational process of thought than we did at the time.

The author suggests a simple demonstration: wiggle your fingers. Now describe how you did that. It's likely difficult to do because the various processes (sending a neural impulse to a muscle that tightens a tendon) are unconscious. Unless a person is studied in anatomy, he may not be able even to accurately describe it at all - he simply took the action and has no clear idea of how or why. "I thought about moving my fingers and they moved."

In a general sense, we learn to do things: it takes a great deal of concentration and effort to learn to swim. But once we have learned it, and have gained sufficient practice, swimming becomes second nature. We just "swim" and do not think of all the various movements we need to coordinate in order to do so.

The same is true of knowledge. Ask a person who has recently moved into a new town for their phone number, and they will have to struggle to remember it. After a few months, they will rattle it off without a thought. He then muses at how technology has made the entire point of remembering phone numbers moot - the smartphone allows us to pick a name and the number will be automatically dialed. But we can't recall their number if we want to give it to someone else - and heaven forbid we should lose our phone and the directory it contains.

There are also things that we do not store in memory because we don't pay attention to them. Most people will have a moment of uncertainty and may have to resort to pantomime if you ask them if the doorknob on their front door is on the left or the right. Even though they go through that door daily, they do not pay attention or remember such a trivial detail. (EN: Or if they seem very certain, chances are they are confabulating. In trials, witnesses will testify with certainty to things that turn out not to be true at all - not because they wish to deceive, but because the details were not important at the time, but are made up in the course of retelling the event.)

He does concede that a difficult experience will enhance memory: if ever there was an instances in which you were carrying a heavy package into your home and had to shift about to free a hand to open the door, you might be more likely to have a reliable memory of which side of the door the knob is on. But otherwise, we go through our days on autopilot, doing and seeing things that will not be remembered because they are of little importance.

This brings the author to another point: cognition is of less significance than emotion. There is a cognitive process involved in opening your front door every day, but unless there is some emotional element (the frustration of dealing with the package), the experience is not memorable.

Emotion is also closely related to action, though cognition has its part to play. Cognition tells us how to do something - but emotion makes us want to do it. When a person has difficulty making choices, it is more often emotion than cognition that is his obstacle: he knows what to do but doesn't "feel" comfortable doing it, and often for reasons he can't explain.

When we act without conscious thought, we often do so very quickly. Conscious thought is slower and more labored, and results in slower actions - and is generally more precise. While we can still make mistakes after careful observation and consideration of our actions, it is far more common for a mistake to be the result of something we did without thinking.

The relationship between emotions and actions is not as strong as what was once assumed: emotional reactions to stimuli cause us to be poised for action - our muscles may tense very quickly in reaction to a perceived threat, but there is a cognitive decision to take the action of which emotions have poised us. Except for very quick actions (a flinch), the emotions are not solely responsible for action.

A great deal of debate has been wasted over whether emotion or reason governs us: our every action is a consideration and negotiation of both. Too much or too little of either causes us to be unable to take effective action, and the extremes of both states "can be dangerous."

Cognition and Emotion

(EN: What follows seems basically accurate, but a rather sloppy representation of research in the past decade or so. I strongly recommend taking it with a grain of salt and consulting more authoritative resources on the topic.)

The author refers to emotion and cognition as being different, and he envisions them as existing on multiple "levels", which he will presently explain.


He uses the term "visceral" to describe the basic level of processing, which is largely related to immediate survival: the reflex actions we have to defend against or avoid threats. This figures into not only the way in which we flinch in response to a perceived threat, but also things such as a fear of heights or a dislike of bitter tastes. They are not necessarily negative reactions, as people can also be observed to move toward things they like or to have a fondness or attraction to things that give them comfort and pleasure.

Visceral responses are fast and unconscious - some do not consider them to be emotions, but precursors to emotion: a loud noise may cause us to flinch, even though were are not aware of the feeling of fear (and may not experience fear if we immediately recognize the noise was not an indication of threat).

This should be of interest to designers because visceral responses are caused by stimuli - and the way that a product is designed stimulates the person who uses it. They react immediately to the way it looks, sounds, or feels before they feel or think. Design can be used to cause a person to feel an attraction to a product or a desire to touch it - as well as to make a person feel repulsion from a hazard and a desire to avoid it.

It's also important to note that peoples' minds have inertia: if they find something attractive at first glance, they tend to justify remaining interested and attracted afterward. Their emotional direction can change, but it is far more common to follow their initial impulse. For this reason, visceral responses matter.


The author suggests another level that is somewhat like conditioning: people have quick responses based on learned behaviors. Because the light switch is generally on the wall beside the door at a certain height, people will reach to exactly that spot when they enter a dark room because the behavior has been conditioned.

There's a brief mention of sport, particularly in terms of practicing. A martial artist will practice a kick thousands of times before using it in a match against an opponent, such that when the moment arrives for him to perform the action, he simply kicks - without thinking about the precise combination of movements necessary to execute the motion.

The repetitive motions with which we are highly familiar, such as typing on a keyboard, all follow the same pattern of having been carefully learned until they can be executed with the briefest of thought. A skilled typist does not think about the position of the "e" key or the finger motion needed to strike it, but does so unconsciously because it is a learned behavior.

For designers, behavior is critical because actions are associated with behaviors. People expect to use a product in the same way in which they have used similar ones in the past. Even something as simple as a button counts upon the motor memory of interacting with buttons in the past - and if the user encounters something that looks like a button but needs to be twisted instead of pressed, it will throw them every time until they learn how to use that particular button.

In terms of emotions, people feel comforted when their behavioral reactions have the expected consequences, but have a negative emotional reaction when their expectations are violated. The button-like control that needs to be twisted rather than pressed creates frustration, annoyance, and doubt. Certainly, they will eventually learn the pattern necessary to interact with that particular control on that particular device, but the initial reaction will be unpleasant.

(EN: This is presuming the button is on a device that will be used frequently enough to develop a new behavior in regard to that control. It is particularly important to adhere to convention when designing something that many people will be first-time users or occasional users.)

He then reclassifies the emotion people feel when experience matches expectations as "relief." Particularly when people approach a new gadget with uncertainty, they feel a sense of relief when it operated the way they expected it to.


The author considers the "reflective" level to exist when an individual must exercise a conscious process of thought. He examines a device to think about the way it works before attempting to interact with it.

Consider the first interaction with a vending machine. The user who approaches it sees a slot with numerals beside it, a grid of buttons bearing numbers, and merchandise in slots which each bear a price and a two-number code. There is no instinct that tells him how to get the product he wants, but he must regard the machine and decide "this looks like I insert coins here, and then type the number of the product I want the machine to dispense."

The reflective level also engages when something goes wrong. In the vending machine example, the user might insert some coins and key the code, but no merchandise is dispensed. He must then engage logical problem solving - to observe whether the chute is jammed, or if he failed to pay the right amount, or if an "out of stock" indicator is showing, or whatnot. His emotion may be confusion or frustration, but only by applying logic can he solve the problem and accomplish what he wants.

As with behavioral reactions, emotions are engaged: anticipation and uncertainty before taking any action, and relief when the action taken has the desired result. The author suggests that reflective actions engage the emotions at a higher level than behavioral actions because the uncertainty and anticipation are more heightened, and the outcome feels like more of a personal accomplishment. Reflective actions are also more likely to make an impression on memory, and engage an evaluation of satisfaction in an experience - as well as any future inclination to engage or avoid engagement.

Taking it a step further, he claims that "reflective memories are often more important than reality," as most of what we perceive, hence remember, is filtered through an emotional state. When we are in a negative mood, we give greatest attention to details that support that emotional state and can sometimes completely ignore details that conflict with it. Consider that vacations are often remembered with fondness, despite the discomfort and inconveniences of travelling.


It must be stressed that one cannot design on one of the three levels, but must consider all of them: the initial reaction, the expectations, and the logical consideration that different users may experience when interacting with a device, procedure, or environment.

He also mentions that peoples' feelings tend to become amalgamated, which is the reason that a service provider who has been excellent will be forgiven a minor deficiency, though one particularly nasty visit may override years of good service.

He also notes that recent trends in psychology take a more interactive stance on emotion or cognition - in that it's more a matter of interplay than one coming before the other. The way we feel influences the way we think, and the way we think influences the way we feel.

(EN: To bookend this with disclaimers - what the author has to say on cognition and emotion seems basically accurate, but a rather sloppy representation of research in the past decade or so. I strongly recommend taking it with a grain of salt and consulting more authoritative resources on the topic.)

The Seven Stages of Action and the Three Levels of Processing

Having defined seven stages of action and three levels of processing, the author then mashes them together in a rather awkward illustration.

He then sets that aside to speak of the concept of "flow" (Csikszentmihalyi) - which considers the way that people become highly productive when engrossed in a task and ignore the outside world, but when interrupted they lose their train of thought, become disengaged, and it takes time to become re-engaged in the task that had previously captivated their attention.

The state of flow depends on a task that requires our conscious attention (it is not done on autopilot) but which is not so daunting as to cause feelings of panic and helplessness. Ideally, it is at a level that is just slightly above the level of our competence, such that we feel we must give it full attention to avoid failure.

He never does quite relate this to his stages and levels, but it's an interesting digression nonetheless.

People as Storytellers

The author suggests that people are "innately disposed" to seek out relationships between events. We feel the need to understand the cause and effect, and will invent religions to comfort us where the cause is unclear. We will take a sequence of independent events and weave them into a story, in which there is a logical progression from one thing to another. This gives us comfort and helps us to make sense of things.

A conceptual model is a form of story, the way we attempt to explain to ourselves how something works, or ought to work. We use some stories to interpret what we have already experienced, and others to imagine what we might experience in future if we take a certain action.

These models can sometimes be quite imaginative and sophisticated, and based on assumptions and hopes more than reality, which cannot be known until it is experienced. They are often based on fragmentary evidence, insufficient understanding, and a kind of naive and hopeful speculation. And until we gain experience, it's the best that we have. (EN: Even after we gain experience, we go on our assumption that what happened last time will happen next time too, which itself is a bit touchingly naive.)

Consider the way in which people interact with thermostats. A person who walks into a warm room will often crank the thermostat down to its lowest setting, assuming that the system will work harder to make up the difference and cool the room faster. This is entirely foolish, because a thermostat doesn't work like a faucet: it is simply an on/off switch that turns off the flow of chilled air when the room has reached the desired temperature. The cooling unit itself is either on or off, and does not have any in-between settings.

And yet, otherwise intelligent people will turn down the dial to its coldest setting in the mistaken belief that the system will cool the room faster. They will even argue with you if you explain how the mechanism actually works, citing personal experience and specious evidence to support their beliefs.

One of the problem of designing things so that the mechanisms that make it work are hidden is that it gives birth to this kind of misunderstanding - and lead people into forming a wrong and entirely inappropriate model, and the defending it vigorously.

Realizing he's gone on a bit of a blather, he attempts to return to his point: people form stories to explain what they observe, and can let their imaginations run free when they do so - and while evidence to the contrary should guide them to refine and improve their mental models, some will instead defend those models in the face of such evidence.

Blaming the Wrong Things

The penchant of making up a story in the absence of evidence is seen on a smaller scale, when people make up explanations to help them "understand" a cause-and-effect relationship.

This is the main reason that people tend to solve problems with brute force: if a door fails to open when pushed, push it harder; if a mechanical device fails, just give it a whack; if the elevator doesn't arrive right away, press the button repeatedly until it does.

The consequences of this can be dire. The author has noted that there have been "numerous deaths" when people attempted to push open a door to escape a burning building - and that "many countries" have instituted a law that requires all doors in public buildings to open outward. (EN: This smells like an urban legend, so I looked into it - it is in fact part of the commercial building codes of some states, particularly for theaters and auditoriums, though the reason I saw cited was that when many people are attempting to exit, even in a non-emergency situation, the press of the crowd prevents the doors from being swung inward.)

As an aside, when people have to wait too long, they assume that a mechanism is not working. Its' generally a good idea to provide them some sort of feedback that gives them the sense that their request is being processed and that they need to be a little more patient. "Some studies" suggest it is wise to overestimate wait time, such that the user is encouraged to think the operation will take longer than it actually will, as they are relieved when it goes faster than expected and annoyed when it takes longer.

Back on topic - when the reason for a failure is not clear, people will use their own conceptual models to provide or invent a causal relationship. If they do not know the facts, they will cling to a plausible fiction.

Another issue is that some people tend to blame themselves. Particularly when it comes to technology, older generations are very quick to jump to the conclusion that they did something wrong rather than there being something wrong with the device. This is said to create a "conspiracy of silence" in which the user is reluctant or ashamed to admit problems - and the manufacturer isn't hearing complaints, and so assumes everything is going fine.

Oddly enough, the opposite is true in services: people are very quick to blame others for their own mistakes. Waiters, clerks, and other front-line employees can attest to the amount of abuse they take from customers when they attempted to cater to their stated desires.

Much of this is a matter of personality: introverted types tend to assume that it is their own fault when something goes awry, extraverts tend to look for someone else to blame. And they tend to take the opposite perspective when things go well - an introvert will credit the device whereas an extravert will claim credit for himself.


The author refers to the phenomenon of learned helplessness as a sort of phobia or mental defect, in which individuals who have had repeated difficulties assume that they are incompetent in general, and believe that other people are able to overcome the same difficulties with ease.

In his mind, it is not so much learned helplessness as taught helplessness - dealing will all the badly-designed objects in their lives, it is the designer who made them feel this way, and the manufacturer who meets customer complaints with hostility that reinforces the sense that it is their fault.

He mentions that students develop the same kind of phobia for certain subjects. If they find it difficult to understand math, whereas their colleagues seem to be picking it up easily, they assume something is wrong with themselves, and their embarrassment causes them to avoid seeking the help they need. What's more, it snowballs - if you struggle with algebra, you will struggle even more with trigonometry, and be hopeless with calculus.

The problem is that when a person fails repeatedly, they come to the point where they simply stop trying, and are lost to the market. They are trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

(EN: There's a related problem of feigned helplessness - people who pretend not to know how to do something as a way to cajole others into doing unpleasant tasks for them. In bartering, it is often used as a way to get "extra" services from a vendor, so they are often on guard against it. But in other instances, merchants have learned to address the problem - offering assistance as a paid service, or offering free training courses.)


Just as repeated failure can make a person feel helpless, repeated success can make a person feel empowered - such that a person who has experienced success in the past will have greater perseverance in overcoming obstacles.

(EN: The author goes a bit far afield with the "up with me" and "failure is just a way to learn" cheerleading. Besides being of little help to a designer, it becomes problematic when people have an exaggerated sense of their own abilities.)


He returns from the reverie to provide some basic advice for designers:

In all, remember that the job of the designer is not to make the device into an object of awe and mystery, but to make it useful with minimal effort by the users, such as they are.

Falsely Blaming Yourself

The author returns to the notion of users taking the blame on themselves. He mentions a specific software product during the time when the computer keyboard had both a 'return" and "enter" key - and in this instance, hitting "enter" instead of return caused an issue that took a few minutes to resolve.

In this story, the designer's first response was to question whether he read the manual - and their second response was it must be an unusual problem and no-one else had ever complained. Going out to users in his firm, it was found that a lot of people had this problem, were frustrated about it, and in aggregate a great deal of employee time was lost because of this very thing. People didn't report it because they assumed they were to blame for using the system wrong - and particularly in a workplace, people do not like to appear foolish or incompetent.

One of the drawbacks of an individualistic culture is that people take personal responsibility when things go wrong. And in the litigious society of today, the courts are often called in to assign blame when things go wrong, people are injured, and property is damaged. Companies must defend against scads of personal-injury lawsuits and seek to avoid costly damage by insisting that the user is to blame for what went wrong - his failure to read the manual or heed warnings and use the product as intended clears them from liability for the damages. And for the same reason many firms are reluctant at any time to admit mistakes or give the impression that their product is imperfect.

The author's take on "human error" is that it is in most instances the error of the designer or manufacturer - to make the device easy to use in a safe manner, and to build in failsafe measures that prevent it from doing much damage if it is used incorrectly.

That's not to say that users are blameless - as people do make errors, ignore warnings, and overestimate their abilities. But as a matter of practice, he advises designers to banish the concept of "human error" from their workplaces - and instead take responsibility for making a device as easy to use as possible. Design in a way that makes a device easy to understand, provide help to avoid errors, and seek to minimize the possible consequences of an error that can be predicted.

(EN: This goes on a while, and seems more like a motivational speech telling designers what they ought to do, rather than advice on how it can be done. I don't think there's a designer anywhere that argues in favor of complex and unusable devices, so all of this badgering is gratuitous and of little value to solving the problem.)

There's a bit in which the author mentions that companies cut corners on design to save money - but the cost of sensors and electronic components has become far less than it used to be, and the validity of the cost excuse has become largely moot.

He marvels a bit at the Nest thermostat - an intelligent device that learns the daily patterns of users and does not need to be programmed. It also learns the capabilities of the system, such that it can even predict the amount of time it takes to cool or heat a room, and can be controlled remotely via wireless devices so that the thermostat can be set from a mobile phone, and patterns can be graphed on a personal computer. He considers this device to be a massive improvement in the "collaborative interaction" between people and everyday things.

He goes on a bit of a tare about computers that are rigid about the format of inputs. Dates, times, phone numbers, and other common bits of data should be entered the way the user prefers, and machines should be smart enough to translate it into the desired format for its database. A user should never get an error message and be forced to re-enter data just because of format.

The Seven Stages of Action: Seven Fundamental Design Principles

The author rehashes his seven stages from the perspective of the user who is approaching a device or a service. These are the questions he asks:

  1. What do I want to accomplish?
  2. What alternatives do I have to accomplishing it?
  3. Is there an action I can take immediately?
  4. How do I do it?
  5. What did that accomplish?
  6. What does it mean to me?
  7. Has my goal been accomplished?

The design of the object, especially its signifiers and feedback, provide answers to these questions that encourage the user to interact. If there is any uncertainty, the user's experience will be negative and he may avoid engagement.

Essentially, it can be boiled down to two things - the information that the user receives before taking an action and the information he gets from taking the action (both in progress and after completion) must align with the notion that the device is valuable to his goals before, and has helped accomplish them after.

He then suggests seven fundamental principles of design, which are not at all correlated to the seven stages above - some are important at multiple stages, others appropriate to only one or two.

  1. Discoverability. The user can determine (not necessarily recognize at a glance, though that is superlative) what actions are possible.
  2. Feedback. The device should inform the user that the action has been initiated, that it is in progress, when he can expect it to be completed, and that it has been completed, along with any pertinent information at each step.
  3. Understanding. The user should gather an accurate conceptual model of the system, so he understands how it operates and has a feeling of confidence and control.
  4. Affordances. The user should recognize how to activate the abilities provided to him by the device.
  5. Signifiers. If affordances and feedback is not recognizable based on the level of knowledge presumed of the user, then signifiers should be used to help identify and understand them.
  6. Mappings. The relationship between controls and the actions they control should be clear, related inasmuch as possible to space and time as the user perceives them.
  7. Constraints. It should also be clear to the user what he cannot or should not do.

When analyzing design, the seven stages and seven principles can be helpful in identifying problems: where the user encounters uncertainty, what question is he attempting to answer and what needs to be present to help him find the answer?

He also suggests considering this in terms of all stakeholders who will use the device. For example, a bathroom shower is meant primarily for the person who will bathe himself using it - but there are also concerns for the architect who must design a bathroom to accommodate it (running water and sewer lines in an efficient manner), the installer who will put it in place, and the plumber who may have to repair and troubleshoot it.

A final note: the author's principle about criticism is "Don't criticize unless you can do better." That is merely complaining and it is not productive. When you recognize something is not idea, stop and examine it, consider what makes it bad, and consider how that can be overcome.