Side effect

When thinking of the concept of Match between System and Real World, it often seems like a straight forward point — we want the users to be able to use our system and engage with it in and easy and intuitive way. In fact, all designers and engineers are also users in their own right, and so it seems pretty safe to suggest they would probably get this part right.

Finding products that communicate themselves well is a hard task not because there are none, but because there are actually all around us — they are the majority, and so no particular one seems to stand out. After careful deliberation I chose the quite obvious Apple iPhone. As a kid who grew up with iPod in hand I’m particularly biased, but the first time how I realized how well Apple managed to bridge the gap and the system in the real world was when my technophobic mom got her first iPhone. It took her 10 minutes to get a hang of the main functionalities of the product.

With very few but clear buttons, visible and recognizable design pattern for charging, earphones, camera, inner speakers and the like — they make it particularly hard for you to get lost. The system speaks the same language as most of its users; in fact, as most of the world.


However this point proves to be not so obvious, as soon as you walk out the door. Designs that don’t respect this match or do it poorly are all around. In fact, immediately as you step into or out of almost any Harvard door.

As seen in this picture, this card reading device looks simple enough and easy to use. You simply have to swipe your card against the bright lines in it’s central part, to make the little colored lamp on the side change color and grant you admittance. But, oh, if only things were so simple. In fact, the best way to use these gray boxes is to swipe your ID card to the right side of it.


In a non-scientific study I have conducted, I could immediately go in 100% of the time in less than a second when swiping to the side. Following the more visible pattern of swiping your card against the drawn bars (as the majority of students does) would result in delays and sometimes in reading errors. However, how is one to discover that if not when particularly drunk and suffering from slight aiming problems? The design could have done a much better job at communicating its real suggested working pattern.

One possible design option to change that would be to make the central part of the device solid and show no special pattern, while moving the existing pattern/other color coding and attention-attracting to the particular location to the side of the box, which is evidently the most sensitive location of the swiping mechanism. It is simply about signaling that particular location to the user in any manner that would distinguish it from the rest of the device, as is not the case now, while also eliminating other possible distractions, like the stripes pattern that currently inhabit the major part of the device.


About the author: limorgu

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