Archive for November, 2007

Anti-usability classics: the doorbell

Sunday, November 4th, 2007


How difficult can it be to make a doorbell that is intuitive to use? Apparently very. Look at this thing! Note that the company finally had to label the bell button twice (the word ‘bel’ with arrow and the white label on the bell button, with the name worn away by hundreds of fingers). Note that the the bell icon on this button is on its side instead of the normal, vertical position. The button competes with at least three other square panels which look no less or more like buttons than it does. The entire thing couldn’t do a better job of concealing the most essential feature: the button you press to ring the bell!

Affordances: a classic example of how NOT to do it

This is a good example of what happens when design ignores ‘perceived affordances’. This principle, invented by psychologist J. Gibson and popularized by Don Norman in his book ‘The Design of Everyday Things’. Simply put: the general appearance, especially the shape of things gives you strong intuitive clues about the potential ways we might use them. If something has an opening and is hollow, you might put something in it (think of a cup to hold liquid). If I tell this to a first-year class without an example, they look at me like I’m nuts. But just look at what happens in expensive, professional products like this doorbell! Do any of the little square panels of which it is made look more ‘pushable’ than others?