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Window Blinds

Invented in the 1960s, windows blinds have been quite useful and are commonly used in many homes or offices. They help use turn a room full of sun shine into a dark theater to watch movies, prevent strangers to see private affairs, or just be installed to be a simple decorative piece.

ImageWhen I was younger, window blinds often confused me because I didn’t know how to use the strings to pull up or down the blinds. Only after seeing my parents or someone else using blinds properly, I was able to know how to use the window blinds. Strings are signifiers for the user to communicate to pull down the strings to pull up the blinds. However, there is no signifier to communicate to the user that they need to hold the string one side in order to keep the blinds to one height. The hanging pole that the user twists to open and close the blinds provides a great feedback; yet, the pole isn’t really a good signifier in communicating to twist. However, the top flaw in my opinion is having one string controlling one side of the blinds. I feel like the user has no use in only controlling one side or the other of the blinds. It provides many problems in keeping both sides even when pulling up or dropping down the blinds.

My solution is to just have one string that can control the blinds going up or down. This way the user won’t have issues in keeping the blinds even.

Not Your Average Water Cooler

In the office, the water cooler is known more for being a social place for employees than just providing high quality H2O. Everyday I go to my work’s water to get a quick cup of water. Yet, my first trip to this water cooler had me a little surprised.

Below are two water coolers.

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The left image is what most would consider an average water cooler, while the right is my work’s water cooler. It seems like many objects in our society, technology reinvents many things like the telephone into the smart phone, etc. Technology has done just that with the water cooler, along with the paradox that technology brings. The paradox of technology is the contradiction of how advancing technology is used more and more in objects to help make our lives easier; yet, in reality technology can result in being more complex for the user.

You can visually see this from the many differences from the left and right water coolers. Instead, of having the simplistic mental model handles that you lift up to get water from, my company’s has a water cooler that utilizes buttons. The use of a button isn’t relatively confusing to the user, however, their is complexity from other information that is provided in the design. For example, the right water cooler has not one, not two, but three water filters. Also it has two buttons for hot water.This adds complexity and confusion to the user because they don’t know which button to press in order to get hot water. I understand the need for filters and the system test for the custodians; however, why not continue to utilize the simplicity of the original water cooler.

I propose to eliminate the second hot water button, unless there is an important usage according to the designer model. Otherwise, the gulf of execution and evaluation is wider than it needs to be with two hot buttons. I would move the buttons towards the center (side by side) so the user can use some mental models. The other information lights and buttons like the filters light can be moved to the side. Overall, simplicity is the key, there shouldn’t be an overwhelming sense of complexity when it comes to a water cooler.

Grandma’s Faucet

My grandparent’s faucet in their upstairs bathroom is one example of what Don Norman was talking about the historical problems with the design’s of faucets.

ImageThis faucet has inability to change the flow of water. You must pull the knob outward all the way out in order to get any water flow. Since the handle is a knob, many first time users can have issues in knowing to pull it outward and only know to turn it left or right. Every time that I use this faucet I get confused which direction that I turn to get warm water. Even with the colors are on the knobs, it is very confusing because the knob can be sometimes turned upside down. This causes the colors to be flipped flopped and the red color on the right and me to turn it right for warm.

If only like Norman said, designers could agree on a standards when designing faucets. Standards seem like the number one solution to make it easier for users. There are so many different designs of faucets that users need to recognize or force them to struggle in how each type of faucet functions.

Screw Stool

ImageEvery Thanksgiving and Christmas when my family eats and gets together at my grandparents house, we like many other families have two separate tables. One for adults and the other for children. To the kids amusement my grandparents have these chairs that I like to call “screw stools”. Theses chairs operate like I describe them as, they screw up and down. The abnormal design of a chair works fairly well considering that it uses simple signifiers and mental models together for a user to understand how to adjust it.

This stool can be a good example of a system image. The system image stems from the designer’s conceptual model. This is the development of the look, feel, and operation according to the designer. In this example a the stool is what was made from the designer’s conceptual model. The actual system image (product or item) is the resulted from user’s interaction with the object. This is called the user’s conceptual model from interactions with the item. In this case the user or the kids in my family interact with it and develop their own conceptual model of the stool. A good design communicates the proper use of the object and the actual designer’s conceptual model. In my opinion the swirl spiral communicates and signifies a mental model of a screw. That the user can turn the top of chair to have it go higher or lower. This “screw stool” effectively communicates its system image and allows to adjust the height of the stool unlike usual stools that are just in one height.

This design is effect and not need for a redesign since the user can easily understand how to adjust the height of the stool. However, what if the user accidentally  unscrews the seat portion of the stool. If this was the intention of the designer that it could be unscrewed out of the base. Yet, for a kid it might be hard to get it back on or screwed in again. A physical constraint should be put at the of the screwed seat preventing from being unscrewed out of the base.

Keurig Coffee Maker

ImageThe Keurig coffee maker is nice little machine that can make a great tasting cup of joe or for just heating up water to make hot chocolate. Either way you use it the design of this machine is very nice. Using signifiers, mental models, and knowledge in the head helps with great usability.

Signifiers

There are several signifiers that the Keurig has that helps signify actions and operations. The icons on each button helps to communicate what function that each button does. They actually look like buttons that you can push since they stick out. Holes help to signify where to place your cup so the coffee flows down into it. Also, lights turn on to tell what function is happening or what the user should do.

Mental Models

Going along with icons of the buttons. ImageThe power button has an icon that many people know that it means power on or off. However, the Keurig breaks some mental models in not having to put in a filter paper. In my mind this is a positive since it would be another time wasting step in coffee making and fixes the legacy problem in having a paper filter.

Knowledge in the Head

When first using the Keurig, it might take a little awhile to operate it. However, users will see that they can quickly learn how to use this machine with many mental models and signifiers. This is obvious by the icons on each button and lights turning on.

Overall, the Keurig in my mind is well designed for easy use, while producing a great cup of coffee. My family hasn’t experienced any problems when using it and find it easier to operate compared to their older coffee maker.

A Cultural Constraint and the Definition of Awkward

While being on a short break during my Thursday night class, I ventured off to the bathroom like most people would during a break. However, when I went into the bathroom on the 3rd floor in Humanities I got reminded why I should only go to the when no one else is going. I was one of several others in the bathroom and there was only one toilet and one urinal. All of us were standing and left at seeing this…

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In our culture a urinal next to a faucet results in the urinal unused if someone is using the faucet next to it. In this case it also results in a cultural constraint. Most males in our current society have knowledge in their heads to just wait for the toilet to open for use instead of facing the awkwardness of openly going the bathroom next to someone washing their hands. Not only is this an example cultural constraint and how knowledge in our head is used, but also flawed because it can result in unsanitary conditions since the urinal is so close to the faucet where people are washing their hands. 

My bathroom experience also reminded me of how American athletes took pictures of the hotel bathrooms at Sochi. It seems our cultural and society has a difference when it comes to cultural constraints. Since some of the bathrooms are designed like this…Image

So it might be common for residents to go to the bathroom openly next to each other. Their culture made it more of a norm rather than a constraint in society. When it comes the 3rd floor men’s bathroom, one of my solutions would be to build a small separator wall so that way people won’t feel the need to avoid the urinal and it will less sanitary. Another solution possibly move either the urinal or faucet; however, since both those options would be expensive, putting in a separator would be less expensive and easier to do.

 

Poor Light Switch Mapping

Lightswitch problemsMy light switch located beside my backdoor has three switches responsible for turning on lights at various spots inside and outside my house. When letting my dogs outside I have been trained to switch up the switch on the left in order turn on my outside lights. However, visitors to my house would believe it would be the light switch on the right to turn on the outside lights. Therefore, the mapping is flawed because people would logically and naturally believe that the switch on left turns on the outside light since it is closer to that light source.

I know that many people have this same problem in there own homes as well and it shouldn’t be anymore. I don’t really know who to blame for this issue. The building contractor? The electrician? The home builders? Maybe all of them. Whoever is to blame, it needs to be fixed.

 

 

Food Saver Flaws

Many may remember the famous Food Saver that came out less than a decade ago. This invention helped people keep their food fresh and prevent foods from decay or getting bad. Yet from looking at the buttons, switches, and design I can see some flaws and lack of usability.

food saver flawsThe fact that they instruct the user to open the food saver and read the instructions inside is flawed. A user shouldn’t have to read instructions when using an object or device. This means a change in design is needed. When using the device you shouldn’t need to push a button just to open the food saver. Once it is done vacuuming the package it should allow the user to lift open the Food Saver to get the bag out.

Also a signifier is needed to communicate to the user that this object has the accordance to be pressed down to begin the vacuuming and sealing process. Also the switch for sealing time is confusing because the user operates be pressing down on the vacuum out the top of the bag and then sealing it. So what is the difference between 1 and 2? Would it be that the thickness of the food determines the number I choose? Obviously I would need to read additional instructions to know.

Direct TV Remote

ImageThroughout the years, the TV remote evolved from having only a couple buttons to close almost hundred. The very first remotes only had buttons that allowed the user to only turn the TV on or off, turn the volume up or down, and also allowing to change the channel either up or down. Now a days the user can accomplish many more tasks compared to the early versions like viewing a channel guide to preview what is on each channel. Above is my Direct TV remote that I use everyday when watching TV. It a nice sleek design and is relatively simplicity in the amount of buttons. It is very usable in the sense that buttons you commonly use are position more towards the lower half for easy finger access. However, there are several improvements that could be made. For example, the colored buttons are still confusing and give no clue to what they do unless you randomly press them by accident. Also buttons like active or list are confusing to the user since many users may not have an idea what entails after pressing them. With some minor tweaks this remote could have better functionality.