Alarming Don Norman
Every morning, I am awoken by the metronomic beeps of my Braun BNC008BK LCD Quartz Alarm Clock. Although I would dearly love to hit snooze, I dare not. This is because the snooze button and the ‘Alarm On/Off’ button are inlaid into one another – to blindly grope for the former is to run the significant risk of simultaneously pressing the latter. Not wanting to inadvertently dynamite my whole morning, I instead begin motivating my carcass out of bed.
Don Norman would hate my alarm clock. He would likely criticize its button layout for lacking a lockout function to prevent me from accidentally pressing the wrong key. Furthermore, when viewed in elevation – as one would at mattress level – the top button lacks any sort of signifier that it is in fact two buttons nested within each other. The two-in-one arrangement may have appeared elegant and efficient for the engineer designing it, but for a human user it is a disaster.
In fact, after having detonated one too many mornings, I decided to shelve my Braun in favor of an iPhone app that tracks your breathing and purports to wake you at the optimal time in your sleep cycle. It even offered you a qualitative evaluation of how good your sleep was compared to how great it could have been. After plateauing at around 63% sleep awesomeness for several weeks, I decided the whole thing was bunkum.
So I am back to my Braun, and in spite of its flaws, I am very happy with it. I have memorized how to operate it flawlessly, and it offers no opinion on my sleeping prowess. But more importantly, I wake up every morning holding a beautiful black cuboid that looks and feels like extruded obsidian. It ennobles my shambly morning in my shambly apartment.
If you were to describe Don Norman’s overall design logic, it is that the human user – with all his faults, biases, and inadequacies – must be the highest priority. Hence the term human-centered design. While I agree with him that this philosophy should be well-heeded within the design community (goodness knows there are enough user-unfriendly designs out there), I disagree that it is the only design philosophy. I am very willing to trade usability for beauty. In an ideal world, would my Braun be both beautiful and highly user-friendly? Absolutely. But within the imperfect world I live in, it is more than good enough.