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Designing for People, Chapter 2: Joe and Josephine

Don Norman deservedly gets a lot of credit for making people aware of the need for user-centered design with his seminal book “The Design of Everyday Things,” published in 1988. But 33 years before then, Henry Dreyfuss was talking up this philosophy, and his devotion to it is made clear when he devotes his second chapter to Joe and Josephine — the archetypal people for whom Dreyfuss creates all his designs.

Designing for People Joe
Joe. Click image to enlarge.

Designing for People Josephine and Joe, Jr.
Josephine and Joe, Jr. Click image to enlarge.

(These creations were given their own book, The Measure of Man and Woman: Human Factors in Design)

The product of extensive research with human physiology, these personas helped Dreyfuss and his team design products that respond to actual physical form. Such data aided in the design of everything from a steam iron to a tank.

And the research isn’t limited just to physical motor capabilities. All the senses are considered, particularly vision. And vision isn’t just about how we see (or don’t see, as with color-blindness), but the cognitive and emotional effect that what we see can have on us.

Where Dreyfuss falls short, and where Don picked up, is understanding the cognitive processes that allow us to make sense of the world. Still, this work in early human factors was ground-breaking, and if designers today paid more attention to this decades-old understanding, we users of products would be a lot less frustrated.

Oh, and I just love this little illustration from page 31.
Designing for People Operator

One annoying-though-at-times-endearing thing about a book written in 1955 by a man who design products for a consumer audience is how it unabashedly uses gender stereotypes, particularly with women, who are depicted cleaning, ironing, being a telephone operator, etc.

  1. As an aerospace engineer, I often wonder how far human factors really goes in industrial design, mainly because I’m ignorant of it. I do know, though, where the rubber of HFE hits our road, since we have to size loads for the smallest possible astronauts [5% Asian female] and size spaces for the largest possible astronauts [95% Caucasian male].

    For us, it’s not about stereotyping as much as making sure that the end user can 100% expect to do the job.

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