Have you ever encountered a confusing door—one which it was impossible to know whether to push, pull or look for a hidden button to operate? You are not alone. Joe Posner of Vox and Roman Mars of 99% Invisible teamed up to get to the bottom…er, other side of those mysterious doors, called Norman Doors (for a very specific reason.)
As humiliating as misusing a door in public can be, occasionally such bad design can even prove fatal. Such was the case in 1903 at Chicago’s newly constructed Iroquois Theater, which caught fire and more than 600 frantic theatergoers were trapped when they piled against the exit doors, which were designed to open inward. The doors were one factor among several that demonstrate the unintended consequences of bad design. (source)
An ideal door is one that as I walk up to it and walk through it, I’m not even
aware that I had opened the door and shut it. -Don Norman
If one slows down to take notice, there are Norman Doors everywhere, and most of them aren’t really doors at all. Consider the EpiPen, an instrument used to inject epinephrine into someone experiencing a severe allergic reaction, and prescribed to 3.6 million Americans each year, is a notorious Norman door. The look and feel of the device—not to mention its very name—suggest that it should work like a ballpoint pen, with its plastic cap covering the needle. However, the EpiPen’s cap is a safety release that, when removed, exposes a needle on the opposite end—causing many users (bystanders and trained medical professionals alike) to accidentally stick themselves. (source) Competitor Auvi Q, dealt with this issue through a modified package design, and Siri-like voice instructions to walk the user through the injection process during an emergency.
One lesser known Norman Door which has likely affected most of us is the design of the glass ketchup bottle. Designed primarily for aesthetics, the glass bottles have a raised 57 midway down the neck which acts as the sweet spot. If you tap that spot, the contents will begin their exit from the mouth of the bottle at an optimal .028 mph. No, really. Heinz verified that fact in their FAQ, which also reveals the secret of tapping the 57. It sure beats bruising your palm by repeatedly slamming it against the bottom of the bottle, or inserting a butter knife into the neck only to release a sloppy flood of ketchup (at .028 mph). User-centered design has influenced ketchup packaging with the release of their plastic easy flow bottle, designed upside down for better storage and featuring a special mess-free valve (which earned its inventor Paul Brown $13 million, highlighting the value of user-centered design.)
Poorly designed doors (among other objects) inspired Don Norman to author The Design of Everyday Things and led him to coin the phrase, “user experience” in the 90s, which has since broadened into User-Centered Design or simply Usability. Steve Krug applied these principles to web usability in Don’t Make Me Think, and human-centered design is becoming more important as technology continues to advance at breakneck speed. Dieter Rams is credited with the 10 Commandments/Principles of Design, all of which focus on the end user.
Regardless of what you design, always keep the end user in mind. Go design a better world.
About Robert W Williams
Robert is a Brand Alchemist specializing in archetypal analysis and strategy. When he's not blogging for Special Modern Design & Logos With Soul he works his magic at intj.design.