Push or Pull? Norman Doors and Designing for Humans

by . March 10th, 2016

If you continually get a door wrong, is it your fault? No. Absolutely not.

In fact, if you and other people continually get it wrong, it’s a good sign that it’s a really bad door. And we actually have a term for it: Norman door.

A Norman door is a poorly designed door that confuses or fails to give you an idea whether to push or pull. It was named after Don Norman, the author of The Design of Everyday Things which explored the phenomenon.

Recently, Vox had an interesting feature on the topic, including an interview with Don Norman himself.

In the video, Don Norman raised two important principles in design—discoverability and feedback.

Discoverability refers to the human ability to discover what operations one can do. Feedback, on the other hand, refers to a signal that something has occurred after an interaction with an object.

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Photo credit: michaelgoodin

Of course, these principles are not exclusive to doors and apply to a whole lot of everyday things. Together, these concepts form a standard around which designers base their work—human-centered design.

Human-centered Design

If you browse tech-related internet forums, you are likely to find stories of people teaching their parents or grandparents how to interact with technology. Most of the time, these are computer software or websites. Older people blame themselves and feel sorry for not being good with technology. Younger people might just attribute it to the inability to “teach old dog new tricks.”

It is convenient to cite these reasons when it comes to designing. After all, it is reasonable to expect users to have at least basic knowledge to operate what we perceive as an everyday thing.


Photo credit: Brian Wilkins

But the thing is, designers should not make things work in the way they want it to work, but rather in the way human beings work.

For instance, have you ever downloaded an app, say Facebook or Twitter, and felt that something was wrong but you don’t know why? And then you check the reviews and found similar statements affirming your opinion. It’s not the user that is the problem then. It’s the design.

The power of a designer then lies in the ability to tap into the human instinct. With increasing design vocabulary that includes colors, shapes, symbols, structure and even gesture, we are getting closer to decoding this instinct and perhaps create a design that understands people.

What do you think is the Norman door of web design? Comment below!



Kevin is a reader first, a writer second, and a gamer somewhere in between. When not rooting for Tyrion Lannister for the Iron Throne, he's probably writing some morbid short story. He enjoys some surreal art, clever advertising campaigns, and a warm cup of coffee while reading Murakami.