Can you find the problem with this door?

In Makers: The New Industrial Revolution Chris Anderson wrote:

We are all designers now. It’s time we get good at it.

But what exactly is design?


Karl Ulrich, professor at the University of Pennsylvaina and designer of extraordinary experience, defines design as

conceiving and giving form to artifacts that sole problems

where artifact means anything manufactured by humans.

This definition derives from two others. The first one is from Edgar Kaufmann Jr., who was curator of the industrial design department at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and wrote that

design is conceiving and giving form to objects used in everyday life

The second definition is from professor Klaus Krippendordd and Reinhart Butter, who stated that

design is the conscious creating of forms to serve human needs

So, the objective of design is to solve probems. People (well, hominids anyhow) have had the ability to design and make tools for millions of years. Our desire to improve our living conditions and to avoid hard and repetitive work has led to solutions that improve our lot in life. This desire, andh the ability to act on it, is the spur to progress.

What is bad design?

Bad design is exactly like design… except it’s bad. There are so many things that have been designed in such a poor way that they are practically useless. Unlike hammers, which purpose and usage are perfectly clear the very same moment you hold one (actually the very same moment you see one), doors can be devilishly deceiptive. Up to the point they deserve a proper name.

Norman doors

Don Norman is the acclaimed author of “The Design of Everyday Things“: he started complaining about doors over 25 years ago. Doors shouldn’t need instructions – the shape of them should guide you through just fine. Yet, even the smartest among us can feel inept as we fail to figure out whether to push, pull, or slide a door.  Ever seen a door like that? Well, thats a Norman door. Which is everything but normal (funny how a simple letter can change things so much).

The fault with Norman Doors does not lie in ourselves, but in product design that ignores both the needs of people and the principles of cognitive psychology.

Let’s listen to Don Norman himself:

Read all about it here: It’s not you. Bad doors are everywhere. – Vox.

More on the design process in Chapter 5 of the book, “From Idea to Project”.

chapter 05

Written by Andrea Maietta

Andrea Maietta is a passionate advocate of agile methods, and is responsible for helping clients understand their needs and providing them with appropriate solutions to build value. He is a software engineer, maker, tireless reader, husband and father, and Rugby Union fan for life. Always excited to learn and share,...
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