Annoying doors and what they can teach us about UX

Robert Marsch

Explore the psychology of Norman Doors and UX design. Learn how these everyday frustrations offer insights for creating exceptional digital experiences.

Published on
November 24, 2023

Have you ever approached a door with confidence, only to find yourself momentarily flustered as you try to figure out whether to push or pull? We've all been there. Picture this: you're in a hurry, your hands are full, and you approach a door expecting a seamless entry. But as you make your move, you're met with resistance. You push, and it's meant to be pulled. You pull, and it's meant to be pushed. The struggle is real, and the frustration is palpable. This seemingly mundane scenario plays out countless times in our daily lives, and it's not just an isolated incident; it’s an indicator of the flawed thinking that goes into the things we interact with every day.

In his book "The Design of Everyday Things," Don Norman coined the term "Norman door" to precisely describe these kinds of infuriating and counterintuitive experiences. Before the concept of user experience (UX) became widely recognised, Don Norman was working to define the way we interact with designed systems every day; he defined UX long before it was a thing, emphasising the importance of making products and interfaces that are intuitive, user-friendly, and a joy to interact with. These principles are at the heart of his insights into design and remain just as relevant today in the digital age as they were when he first put them into words.

The psychology of Norman doors and UX

For digital design, UX holds the key to success. Whether you're designing a physical door or a digital interface, understanding the psychology behind user interactions is paramount.

1. The Norman door effect in UX design

Imagine a website or app where clicking a button yields unpredictable results. Just like a Norman door leaves users frustrated, a poorly designed digital interface can lead to confusion and frustration. This “Norman door effect” in UX design highlights the importance of clarity and predictability. Users should always know what to expect when they interact with your product. This means intuitive navigation, clear instructions, and feedback that guides them seamlessly.

2. The role of feedback in design

One of the most frustrating aspects of Norman doors is the lack of feedback. Users can't tell whether to push or pull until they've made the wrong move. Similarly, in UX design, providing timely feedback is crucial. Users should receive immediate responses to their actions, whether it's clicking a button, filling out a form, or selecting an option. Feedback assures users that their actions are registered, reducing anxiety and improving the overall experience.

3. Usability testing: A solution to Norman doors and digital quandaries

To avoid Norman doors in both physical and digital design, usability testing is your best friend. Just as a poorly designed door can be fixed through observation and iterative design, digital interfaces benefit from rigorous testing. Usability testing involves real users navigating your product while providing feedback. This invaluable insight helps identify pain points, ensuring your design aligns with user expectations.

4. Overcoming cognitive load

Norman doors overload users with cognitive load – the mental effort required to understand and interact with a design. Similarly, complex digital interfaces burden users with excessive cognitive load. To create user-friendly experiences, streamline your design. Minimise distractions, simplify processes, and guide users through their journey with ease.

5. The business case for good UX

The cost of bad UX can be steep. Just as frustrated users may avoid a problematic door, dissatisfied customers can abandon your website or app, impacting your bottom line. Research shows that for every dollar invested in UX design, businesses can expect a return of up to $100. Prioritising UX not only enhances user satisfaction but also drives conversion rates, customer loyalty, and revenue.

The doorway to exceptional UX

In a world where digital interactions are increasingly prevalent, the lessons of Norman doors are more relevant than ever. Whether you're designing a physical door or a digital interface, understanding user psychology and embracing design thinking can make all the difference.

By addressing the parallels between frustrating doors and vexing digital experiences, we've unlocked the doorway to exceptional UX design. Remember, clarity, feedback, usability testing, simplicity, and a commitment to user-centric design are the keys to crafting user experiences that leave a lasting positive impression.

Embrace these principles, and you'll not only avoid the pitfalls of Norman doors but also create digital spaces where users feel welcome, confident, and empowered.

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