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Swing Vote

In Donald Norman’s book, The Design of Everyday Things, one of his overarching arguments is that well designed objects should be self explanatory.  Meaning that design of objects should basically tell the user what the main purpose of the object is, where to place their hands on the object, and how to operate that object.

While I agree that items should be well designed and intuitive, I also feel that the users of these items should be open minded and willing to explore the object to a certain degree.  The item shown in the above photos is a compact stapler, meant for students and other individuals who need to staple documents on the move.  However, when looking at the top left photo and lower middle photo, it’s not very clear that this item is a stapler.  I’ve given this item to a couple people and asked them to figure out what it is and how it works…often to receive looks of puzzlement and frustration.  With a little encouragement and an occasional hint, they eventually reached that ‘aha!’ or ‘oh, duh!’ moment.

Designers can only communicate so much to the user through the design of an item since they need to make a multitude of compromises.  The rest of the explanation can hopefully be found in a well designed instruction manual.

What’s your opinion?….are our expectations for simple, self explanatory items reasonable?  Or are the users of these items lacking that natural human curiosity?




Will, excellent example to illustrate how sometimes the design doesn’t communicate the purpose of the object. I almost overlooked your example as I thought it was some electronic gismo (yawn), but then I noticed that the smaller picture looked to be a stapler and lo, my curiosity was caught. So I want to know how well it works as a stapler?


I have to agree with Kristi, I almost overlooked it as well but then noticed how you had different stages of pictures and found it interesting. I like how you placed the images like that to show the progress of the product. However, I agree that I think the design does not communicate the purpose. I do think it makes things interesting though. The design might not communicate the purpose but it serves a purpose.

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