We come across constraints in our everyday life. The limitations and restrictions offered by these constraints help us understand what can and cannot be done.
For example A Cultural Constraint-
A classic example of the cultural constraint that I faced when I moved to the states would be greeting strangers. I have observed complete strangers greeting me and asking me about my day every time I have stepped out of my house. Doing this back in my country could be mistaken as a violation of social norms. People wouldn't really talk to complete strangers back in India. As Norman says, cultural constraints are driven by the change in environment and social situations and I think this example for me would perfectly fit in as a cultural constraint. As proposed by Belson, I followed the 'scripts' offered by the change in environment to get accustomed to the social norms in the states.
Physical, cultural, semantic and logical constraints help us while using a product or even while interacting with the surroundings. In my opinion, each of these constraints provides us with a friction that helps us understand the usability and possibility of any product. I would further exemplify with an example of a logical + conventional + Semantic method that the elevators in my building have used.
Norman, in his example, has talked about a destination control system, which is great. But what I usually experience when interacting with elevators is getting confused while pressing the right button to call for an elevator. I have observed a few people going through the same and in the end, most of us end up pressing both the buttons when actually their functions are different. The 'up button' is used when you wish to take the elevator to a floor above you- but I confuse it by thinking that I am calling the elevator 'up to' me. Thus, due to confusing semantics, I end up creating a bad friction for myself and for the elevators.
But in my building, they have provided three lifts and one single button to operate them all. It goes against the conventional design, which I have mostly seen back home. But it works more efficiently. One single button, no confusion. On pressing the button, the elevator nearest to your floor would stop and take you in. Though the destination control system is inside, it at least removes the confusion of having 2 buttons to access the elevator.
I feel that this change in the button style enhanced the logical application while using the elevator. I had no choice but to use the button for one single purpose thus removing my confusion. As Norman states- Design in such a way that there can be no failures- and I feel the elevator design did justice to it.
Another example that I would like to talk about is smoke detectors.
A smoke detector for me could also be a cultural constraint. We don't have it back in India but I feel it is a great way to avoid any mishaps. However, getting accustomed to it wasn't as hassle-free as it seemed.
It offers a very simple logical and semantic constraint: exhaust your smoke and there will not be any alarm from the smoke detector. But I feel, sometimes this could cause a little problem. Being an Indian, I end up cooking a lot of different dishes that tend to create a lot of smoke. We don't have a mechanical exhaust system in our apartment and thus the smoke sits too long. Recently the smoke detector went off and in no way could we stop it. We had to follow all the secondary methods of exhaustion such as opening up doors, windows and trying to get rid of the smoke. But, the detector still wouldn't stop ringing. Furthermore, as Norman mentions the importance of having a lack of annoyance- this detector definitely seemed to have missed that important point while designing. The annoying sound not only disturbed us, but also our neighbors
Due to improper signifiers, we could not stop the smoke detector on our own. As Norman states, a usable design would start with observing how the tasks being supported are actually being performed. I feel the design of a smoke detector could have a better way of detecting the type and urgency of that smoke before having to ring as a response to the situation. Having an activity centered control over a device centred control in this situation would do justice to the design of this product.
Constraints and Design