[Week 4] Bookclub: Knowing What to Do



A strong start to week 4!


I’m so glad to see the excellent conversations happening in the various bookclub threads, and an eclectic mix of people all coming together to contribute various perspectives and experiences. This is how we create a valuable bookclub for the benefit of everyone. Nice work and keep it up!

A quick summary of Chapter 4

Following on from the principles introduced in chapter 3, Don explores how constraints and mappings can help inform design. In my older edition he starts the chapter with a discussion involving a VCR, but I know some of you will be reading newer copies with more up to date examples!

Much of this chapter is dedicated to providing examples of constraints and mappings, consolidating and building on principles and stories related in the earlier pages. In particular, Don describes four constraints inherent in design by examining how children build a lego motorbike, and how people use everyday objects such as doors and switches: physical limitations based on shape and size; semantic constraints determined by the context of the situation; cultural constraints based on conventions; and logical constraints based on the assembly and components.

This sets us up nicely to consider visibility and feedback, two important cues for people using an object which we, as the designers, can define and harness when creating an object. These are principles we can leverage to discover, and deliver on, the chapter title’s promise: Knowing What To Do.

Ask yourself:

  • Remind yourself of Don’s four types of design constraints
  • Could one be considered more important than the others? How would you justify this?

Some questions to discuss with the rest of the group:

  1. How can we apply these principles of visibility and feedback when designing an interface?
  2. Besides these examples of physical, semantic, cultural and logical constraints, what are some other ways we might know what to do with a designed object?
  3. What is the relationship between visibility and feedback? When is one more effective than the other?
  4. When we say ‘visibility’, what do we actually mean? What are other ways we can make things apparent, other than relying on visuals? Why don’t we use these more often?


Whew – it’s been a bit of a slog for me this week. I found this chapter the least interesting so far. I’m not sure why – perhaps because I didn’t learn anything new about myself and the way that I think.

The first thing that really caught my attention was Don’s observation in the section about semantic constraints that “extreme sports push the boundaries of what we think of as meaningful and sensible”.

I think this interested me partly because I come from a country and culture where extreme sports are almost the norm (Kiwi’s invented the bungy jump) and partly because meaningful and sensible don’t mean the same thing to everyone, and extreme sports seem to me to be a natural progression of human behaviour.

In some ways that summarises the thing that I find the most difficult about UX as a discipline. We all think differently, and while that’s something that we value and celebrate, at its root it makes it very hard to be empathetic.

The air kissing example made me laugh. I’m a hugger and that causes way more awkward handshakes than anyone should be subjected to. :wink:

I also had a good laugh at the ‘standing backwards in the elevator’ example. @Lukcha, @tollady and I got many good laughs out of doing that at UXNZ last year.


cough @Bookclub cough

How is Week 4 going?


This chapter starts by explaining the 4 constraints: Physical, Cultural, Semantic and Logical. One example which comes to mind is the USB stick. It has physical constraints so that it can be entered in the one way, but this leads to trying one way and when it doesn’t fit in you try the other way. However, through knowledge of the world, some know that the two open holes on the side need to point up when inserting. With this information, one can insert the USB in a single try for horizontally placed ports. For vertically oriented ports it will still remain trial and error.

Next he discusses on the problems of doors, switches and faucets. The issue with switches is highly relatable. When building the ground floor of my house, the switches of the living room, dining room and pantry (around 15 switches) were located in one place. I somewhat mapped them room wise, but still you need to flip a few switches to get the correct one. The ideal solution would be to have a touch screen display which shows the location of the light. Also, the activity centered controls which Don mentions can be implemented in homes so you have few templates according to your needs. This can be seen in most smart home apps in the name of ‘Scenes’ .

With regards to faucets, there is absolutely no standard for thems here in my country. So if you go to a restaurant, hotel or even a friends house, you would most probably be confused on how to operate it. Most hotels and restaurants add a signifier in the form of a small poster on how to operate it.

Finally, he lists down the constraints that force a desired behaviour. Forcing functions and Lock ins are frequently seen in digital applications. For example some mobile apps would force you to turn on mobile data or location services to start using the app.

Favourite Quote
The lack of clear communication among the people and organizations constructing parts of a system is perhaps the most common cause of complicated, confusing designs

One final note on the destination based lift. I haven’t got a chance to experience one, but I believe it would be more confusing than the current lifts. Is this because I am used to the convention?


I wonder the same thing. I fear that the lack of control (i.e. choosing when you get off while in motion) might be disconcerting.


have finally got myself into this chapter. Half way through. Feel bad for being so far behind.


All good – everyone seems to be in the same boat. I’ve decided to stop nagging you all and let you do this in your own time. :slight_smile: