Pick a piece of interactive technology in public, used by multiple people. Write down your assumptions as to how it’s used, and describe the context in which it’s being used. Watch people use it, preferably without them knowing they’re being observed. Take notes on how they use it, what they do differently, what appear to be the difficulties, what appear to be the easiest parts. Record what takes the longest, what takes the least amount of time, and how long the whole transaction takes. Consider how the readings from Norman and Crawford reflect on what you see.

We are surrounded by interactive devices in almost all aspects of our lives. The area that I chose to observe is the ITP kitchen, and specifically the tea kettle (water boiler?)


As a teacoholic, I drink a few cups of tea per day, and the kettle is my friend. It was interesting to observe the interaction people had with tea kettle.

Assumptions: Kettle is an electrical device to quickly boil water, which then usually goes into a cup with a tea bag. Volume wise, it usually can serve around 5 cups. To make the kettle work, once must plug it in, pour water into the kettle, flip the switch and wait until it boils and stops.

Observations: Most people had no problem filling it up and turning it on. There were two types of users of the kettle: the ones that waited for the water at the counter, and the ones that chose to leave and come back later.

The ones that stayed usually socialized with friends at the kitchen, while checking the kettle every minute or so. I noticed that the light on the switch was hard to see. Some users had to bend down to see if the light was on. From personal experience, I have filled up the kettle and switched it on, and later realized the kettle was unplugged, or the cable on the kettle was loose. I noticed a few users check for the light on the switch for that reason. I think this is a design flaw. You should be able to see the light on the switch, without bending or getting closer to the switch.

The ones that left and chose to come back was interesting to observe. Usually they came back after 10-15 min, long after the water had boiled, or did not at all. Because the kettle doesn’t make a loud noise when it’s finished, the ones that left just forgot they had started making tea. And although the switch is semi-loud when it turns off, it can still get lost with the room noise. Although we have enough beeping in our lives, having a beeper on the kettle may be the way to go. I have yet to see one.

Crawford mentioned esthetics influencing the design and making it better. This kettle does have some interesting design elements to it: the shape of the plastic that lets you see the water inside and the curves on the kettle itself are esthetically pleasing. But I do think one design choice, which was probably an esthetic choice, is not very well functioning: the switch. Even though the switch comes out beautifully and is shaped so the thumb can easily switched it on, you cannot really see the light well on the switch. It is a design flaw.