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Norman Doors and Grocery Stores

The Design of Everyday Things (Don Norman)

By Judey Kalchik Published 6 months ago 3 min read

When I walk into my local grocery store I enter through the second set of doors and turn left, through the exiting customers, to grab a cart to use while shopping.

It irritates me every time. Most people need a cart. More people leave a store through the same set of doors. Why must the two traffic streams compete for the same space?

As I learned from author Paco Underhill: most people turn toward the right when they enter a store. If a grocery store wanted to make the experience easy, natural, and intuitive, they would put the carts to the right of the store entrance. And, at my local Meijer, the incoming and exiting customers would have a better traffic flow. (YAAAAY!)

Intuitive Design

Product management spends a great deal of time on intuitive design (think Apple packaging). Done well, intuitive design means that the user understands how to use something without much effort, training, or explanation. The user instead uses instincts and past knowledge as they encounter something new.

In the grocery store example, it means customers entering and turning toward the right would see carts ready and waiting to be filled with their purchases. Since most people turn right, the things they need to progress through the store should be located on the right. (Looking at you Meijer)

Doors with flat plates let a person know they need to push on the door to open it. Doors with knobs let us know we need to grasp and turn them to enter. And handles invite a person to grab them and pull.

Or do they? Have you ever noticed a 'bad door'? A door that you instinctively try to use one way but need to instead open differently than you first thought?

Like the door above that helpfully tell you to PUSH, or the door with a similar handle that instructs you to PULL: how did we get to a place where we need to provide cues to do something as universal as opening a door?

It's not you; it's the door. Have you ever heard of the Norman Door?

Don Norman isn't just an author of many books. Not just a researcher, psychologist, lecturer, technician, or door-opener, either. He was also the VP of Technology at Apple, and likely had a BIG say about the intuitive design still in use there. And he actually wrote the book about intuitive design: "The Design of Everyday Things".

The *link below shows the cover of the book. It looks odd, doesn't it? The spout is on the same side as the handle of the coffeepot. That isn't going to work out if you try to use it, is it?

He is the Norman of the Norman Door.

Human-Centered Design

Don Norman believes that design doesn't have to be complicated; human-centered design gives as much weight to usability as it does to aesthetics. Bad design frustrates people, causes embarrassment, and requires too many directions... like the need for a label on a door.

His book is a must for people that like design, enjoy understanding human behavior, want to know how things work, and value having dinner conversation material.

An example of identifying human-centered design is found in Norman's Seven Questions that take the designer through the user's Action Cycle.

screen shot from

Applying this to a Norman Door circumstance would look like:

  1. The goal: I want to enter the room
  2. I do it by walking through the door
  3. I open the door by pulling or pushing.
  4. It has a handle, so I pull.
  5. I pulled and nothing happened.
  6. So I'll push.
  7. I had to push, not pull: that opened the door.

Walking through those steps (over and over and over) tells the door designer that there is a flaw: the design isn't human-centered. Having incoming shoppers turn toward the right and seek a cart tells the operations team that the location shouldn't be to the left of the entrance.

Good design builds on the knowledge you already have, doesn't require a lot of explanation, and is not contradictory.

So the next time you pull on a door instead of pushing: it's not you. It's the door.

~*The link is for the book listing on Why not link to the site named after a river? Because gives money back to independent bookstores every year. It's an alternative to using Ama$$n, and keeps your money in your community, supporting your friends and neighbors. I am not an affiliate and will not earn from any purchases you may make using the link.


Comments are always welcomed: do you have a Norman Door in your life? What books on design or psychology do you enjoy? Should Meijer change the location of their carts?


About the Creator

Judey Kalchik

It's my time to find and use my voice.

Poetry, short stories, memories, and a lot of things I think and wish I'd known a long time ago.

You can also find me on Medium

And please follow me on Threads, too!

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Comments (6)

  • Colt Henderson6 months ago

    It makes a lot of sense. I just never thought about it. Thanks for teaching me something.

  • Jay Kantor6 months ago

    'j' - Who me cynical? We wouldn't worry so much about which food-door we used once we swallow the price-shock. 'j'

  • The Dani Writer6 months ago

    Oh, this is good! Humans do some nonsensical things. That's been irritating me lately. I am living my internal rant through your writing here. Thank you, Judey!

  • Meijer's probably won't as long as they have a sufficient stream of regulars who have adapted to where the carts are. But if they're wanting to gain new customers, it might be wise as the shopping environment has a lot to do with whether or not people want to go there. Most Walmarts feel like warehouses. We prefer shopping at Target. Dollar General feels claustrophobic & cheap. Unless it's our only option, we don't spend a lot of time there, even with $5 off $25 coupons. And doors with handles where you need to push or bars where you need to pull trip me up every time, lol.

  • Shirley Belk6 months ago

    Judey, I enjoyed this story so much because I see flaws that frustrate me, too. Why do things have to be complicated to try to look "important?" Simple is good. And honest.

  • sleepy drafts6 months ago

    Wow! This is an awesome article. Your piece has given me a lot to think about - I will definitely be adding this book to my reading list. Also, thank you for sharing the Bookshop link! I had no idea that even existed! What a great initiative.

Judey Kalchik Written by Judey Kalchik

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