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Musing on Unmuting a Phone and Design

I cannot be trusted to unmute a phone.  I have a history of hanging up instead of unmuting. I can admit this, because I know I’m not the only one.  When it happens, I blame the phone–the visual cues are all wrong.  The phones that trick me are the ones with a speaker button that hangs up and red button that controls  mute.  Red mean hang up—so it’s not the choice to unmute.

This reminds us–design has a strong impact on user experience—this applies to software as well as hardware. As product managers, we need to be sure our teams are incorporating principles of design into our software.  A foundational work on design concepts is Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things.  It’s been several years since I read it, yet it still influences the way I analyze usability problems—with objects or software.

If you want a preview of the type of information in the book, read Norman’s  Affordances and Design.  He explains some core concepts that impact design, including perceived affordances which allow users  to predict behavior.  Or, in my case, wrongly predict that red on a phone means hang up. Additionally, Norman explains the need to adhere to cultural constraints and conventions for usable design (is “red means hang up” now a cultural convention?).  He concludes with four basic principles for screen interfaces. The article provides a nice overview of some key concepts.


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