The Seven Principles of Design vs. The Seven Stage Action Cycle

As I continue my exploration into Donald Norman’s “The Design of Everyday Things,” I continue to observe strong relationships between seemingly disconnected concepts (which serve to further cement my affection for the book). One such relationship is between the Seven Fundamental Principles of Design and the Seven Stage Action Cycle.

Excuse the above messy illustration, but the principles Norman describes as “fundamental” to design can easily be framed as direct reflections of the way we as human beings experience new products.

  1. GOAL
    Everyone starts with a goal when using a product (even if that goal is more emotional than “tangible”). I, as a user, decide to use a product because I have an initial conceptual model of that product such that I am inclined to believe it can help me accomplish my goal.
  2. PLAN
    To evaluate the possible ways in which I can achieve my goal in a given system, I lean on the information available to me. What affordances are actually made visible (discoverability)? Which signifiers exist that help me understand what controls exist?
  3. SPECIFY
    I must eventually decide which course of actions to take. To do so, I make educated guesses as to which controls map to specific outcomes and implicitly consider common constraints that might help me choose the course of action to attempt first.
  4. PERFORM
    It’s time to actually give it a shot. What are the affordances of the system? I follow my chosen array of actions to find out.
  5. PERCEIVE
    Feedback. I rely on system feedback to perceive the outcome of my actions.
  6. INTERPRET
    I now correlate the feedback I have received and perceived with affordances. What is actually possible with the product? What actually happened as I followed my course of action?
  7. COMPARE
    As I compare these perceived affordances with my initial goal, I immediately begin to reframe my conceptual model of the system.

Yes, there are likely many more connections between these concepts than what I outlined above. The point is: everything “fundamental” about design is directly correlated with the process we unconsciously follow when using products.

We should design with this correlation in mind. Our goal as designers is for the user to complete the Seven Stage Action Cycle in the simplest, fastest, and most satisfying way possible. The Seven Fundamental Principles of Design are a north star for doing so.

Norman, Donald A.. The Design of Everyday Things (pp. 6-7). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

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