June 3, 2020

Don't Know Whether to Push or Pull? There's a Name for That...

It's called a Norman door.

A Norman door is a poorly designed door that fails to give you an idea of whether to push or pull. A Norman door is confusing and it's very common. It was named after Don Norman, father of user experience, co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group, and author of The Design of Everyday Things.

I am sure everyone has experienced the embarrassment of struggling to push open a door, only to realize that it is clearly marked “Pull?” It isn’t your fault though, its the designer’s fault.  According to Norman, doors shouldn’t have “Push” or “Pull” signs on them. Instead, the design of the door should be such that it is obvious for people to know whether to push, pull, or turn the knob to open the door.

There is no reason for these backward designs to persist since there are very easy ways to signal to users what kind of door they are approaching (see above), et Norman doors are very common.

This peculiar design problem is part of what motivated Don Norman to write The Design of Everyday Things (which was required reading for my degree in Human-Computer Interaction, it's a great book and highly recommend it). Similar issues can be found in other everyday objects as well, from light switches and faucet controls, which frequently feature counter-intuitive functionality.

In the video above, Don Norman raised two important principles in design—discoverability and feedback.

Discoverability refers to our ability to discover what operations one can do with a particular object, like a door handle for pulling. Feedback, on the other hand, refers to a signal that something has occurred after an interaction with an object, like the door actually opening.  Of course, these principles are not exclusive to doors and apply to a whole lot of everyday things, including websites and mobile apps. Do you have a Norman door in your life that causes you pain? Or how about some other object that could be classified as a Norman... Please share in the comments below!

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