Norman’s discussion about design failures that lack a a good conceptual model and visibility really hit home for me. Several devices from my last job really stand out.

The Ikea NUTID Microwave oven (and/or similar version), for example, as one of the least natural mappings I have ever experienced. I worked in real estate and would have to explain to people how to use this type of oven. I never could.  I can even argue that the instructions made it harder to use. There were limited knobs and switches, clear picture type options of pots and steam and types of food you’d cook. Aesthetically, it was beautiful. But I could not tell you how to heat up a slice of pizza. You could barely even tell if the machine was on or if it was idle, as both options looked almost exactly the same.

We also had to use this terrible phone system which was very similar to the one he describes. On the outside it looked like a real, normal phone, with a strip of extra buttons. In order to change the main voice mail you would have to call in, press buttons that led to other buttons and put in a special code. Repeat that process with a different code to chance individual mail boxes. Now, to put on a holiday voicemail, you had to figure out which mailbox you needed to access and figure out which of 9 recording boxes you wanted to use and then figure out what you needed to press in order to get that to work. And all of the codes were very arbitrary and for each box (991 or 999). I was the one in charge of the phones, and it really made me hate holidays and any changes to the company, due to the hours I would have to spend relearning how to make the changes.

As Norman says, “When simple things need pictures, labels, or instructions, the design has failed.”  This is basically the same as the saying – if you have to explain the joke it’s not funny.

Input from users should be incorporated into the design mapping. It really is the only way to take this (apparently) widespread corporate phone issue to the next level and get the devices more user friendly.