Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 09: Culture influences our interactions

Have you ever eaten with chopsticks? I’m pretty sure you have, but if I ask you if you’ve always known how to use them, your answer will certainly vary depending on your culture of origin… As a westerner living in Europe, I did not have to use chopsticks on a daily basis to eat when I was a child. In my family, we ate very little Asian food and when we did I preferred to take cutlery that I knew either knife, fork, or spoon because it was simpler and required less effort for me. My interactions with chopsticks were for a long time very awkward and I had to face the problem by eating in a Chinese restaurant where having no choice but to use chopsticks I learned how to use them. This awkward interaction that I experienced with chopsticks is specific to my Western culture and is reversed for Asians when confronted with a fork and knife. Let’s try to understand how our cultures frame our behaviors and interactions.

The influence of our cultures

Each culture has its own conventions, these are cultural constraints that generally induce specific behaviors. These constraints define a set of authorized or prohibited actions in social situations as well as the use of specific objects whose origin may or may not have evolved over the course of history and may depend on the climate, the environment…. When we go to a foreign country and we are not familiar with the cultural norms, we can have awkward behaviors that will be badly perceived by the inhabitants of the country. Any designer whose ambition is to design new objects that will be used all over the world must therefore integrate these cultural constraints.

The examples that will follow are mostly based on cultural habits that can trigger awkward interactions for foreigners, the easiest cultural differences to identify from my point of view, exist between the West and Asia.

Why do we drive on the left in almost a third of the countries in the world?

Let’s first try to understand why this disparity in traffic. To do this, let us go back to antiquity to see that men already crossed each other on their right. The reason: most human beings being right-handed, our ancestors carried their sword on their left leg to draw it easily. When the horse became the mode of locomotion for noblemen and men-at-arms, the use of left-hand traffic continued for the same reason. Thus, when two knights crossed each other, their swords could not touch. This would have been clearly interpreted as a duel provocation.
It is said that right-hand traffic dates back to Napoleon, although the theories on this subject differ. Before the appearance of the French emperor on the international scene, soldiers attacked first from the left and then only from the right. Legend has it that Napoleon reversed the direction of the attack to cause confusion. Then, he would have imposed right-hand traffic in all the countries he had conquered. Another theory is that Napoleon was left-handed. This, it is said, is the reason for this great reversal: putting his opponents in difficulties, he could more easily attack them and thus optimize his chances of victory. Master of Europe, Napoleon then imposed right-handed traffic on the “national roads”. Everyone, except… the undefeated English. This disparity in traffic patterns today forces us to build different cars but also to adopt different driving behaviors depending on the country. It generates awkward interactions for any foreigner who has to integrate codes and behaviors contrary to his own.

Did you know that the Chinese are tetraphobic?

Indeed they do not like the number 4 because in the Chinese language the pronunciation of the number 4 is very close to the pronunciation of the dead word this number is therefore considered a symbol that brings bad luck. This could be an anecdotal fact yet it has its importance including in the design. In 2017 the OnePlus phone brand was changed from OnePlus 3 to OnePlus 5, thus avoiding the creation of the OnePlus 4. Why did this happen? Precisely for this reason, the Chinese company did not want to name its phone after a symbol of misfortune. It could be said that changing this name in reference to a superstition could be considered silly, yet it is certain that many Chinese would not have bought the model if it had contained the number 4 in its name, this would not have been the case in another country. We can therefore deduce that any interaction including the number 4 is doomed to failure in China.
This shows us that even if an object can be considered perfect, the symbolism it will have from one country to another, for example through its name, will have an impact on the use that people will have of it or even on the willingness of people to have it.

Hygiene, did you say hygiene?

I have a friend who has often been to Japan, it is a country she loves and whose inventions and culture she loves to discover. However, there is one thing she has never gotten used to Japanese toilets. The first explanation I had in mind when she told me about this toilet was that she didn’t understand how to use it. Then, while researching, I realized that the way Japanese people approach hygiene is different from ours. Indeed, for Japanese people, toilet hygiene includes a washing ritual. Thus, toilet washing features are considered essential for them and ¾ Japanese households are equipped with washing and drying toilets. While for my friend these functionalities are more of a gadget, funny to test once or twice but then she would come back to her use of the toilet as she does in France. So the object is not clumsy but the vision of the use we have of the object is different from one culture to another, so my friend was interacting clumsily with the object but this clumsiness was voluntary because she did not want to use the object in the same way as the Japanese.

Tea or coffee?

The Chinese who make our coffeemakers, however, hardly drink any coffee, at least not for the older generations. So they don’t have a coffeemaker in their homes.
Everybody knows that they are big tea consumers, but this goes beyond the consumption of a local product because over the centuries a strong tea culture has developed and has become a very representative element of Chinese culture. The practice of tea culture elevates the spirit and wisdom of human beings. Tea has a very close relationship with Chinese culture, and the study of this tea theme, with its rich content, covers a wide range of disciplines. Tea not only embodies the spirit of Chinese civilization, it also embodies an ideological form. There is no doubt that it has been beneficial in strengthening the social realization of the people and the appreciation of art.
This culture is, therefore, a major brake on the increase in coffee consumption. And despite the installation of Starbucks coffee shops the Chinese drink an average of 1 cup of coffee per year. I found it interesting to learn that in order to increase coffee consumption, a Chinese inventor developed a bag that allows coffee to be brewed in a cup, thus mixing the culture of tea and coffee. Will this attempt at interaction be successful? We will see.


Clumsy interactions can have cultural origins and take place during our travels abroad. However, cultures are increasingly moving towards a common or mixed culture. So what will happen in the future, what will be the place of our cultures of origin in our behavior and interactions?


  • A Clumsy interaction doesn’t happen at the moment we use the object, it was there before and can come from the designer and his personal vision of the use of the object.
  • A Clumsy interaction can depend on the conception of an object and more specifically on the design of the experience related to this object when trying to manipulate it, activate it, make it work, and understand it.
  • A Clumsy interaction has several causes, one of which is mostly conceptual. When the origin of the awkward interaction is inappropriate and deliberate behavior, it is then a human error of the user.
  • A Clumsy interaction can be the result of a lack of curiosity.
  • A Clumsy interaction depends on the level and type of emotions the object will generate in the user before, during, or after its use.
  • A Clumsy interaction can exist and not exist at the same time all depends on the society and culture in which one lives.

Book: The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman, 2020
Article: De l’art des toilettes au Japon,
Article: Pourquoi les Anglais roulent à gauche et nous à droite,

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 08: What is our link to the object?

In our daily lives, we have access to countless objects, all of which can be replaced whenever we feel like it. Yet it seems harder to part with some of them. Who has never been reluctant to throw away a pair of shoes that have been worn for a long time even though they are damaged and worn out, and this without any logical reason? I propose to explore our connection to the object and how our emotions towards these objects impact our interactions with them and can make them awkward.

The place of emotions in our lives

Emotion is the manifestation of a feeling that provokes a disorder. Emotions are considered to be animal, complex, and irrational and tend to be contrasted with so-called human, logical and rational cognition, yet it is emotions that allow us to make decisions even if unconsciously. In order to better understand, we need to look at human behavior, which is largely subconscious. In general, when information reaches the conscious mind, many judgments have already been made unconsciously. It is the affective system that prevails and makes a judgment, it is the affective system that will allow us to determine whether an environment or a situation is safe or dangerous, for example. The cognitive system will interpret external information and give it meaning, while the affect which is the system of a judgment of the outside world can be conscious or subconscious. When we feel an emotion, we make a conscious experience of the affect and this allows us to attribute a cause to it as well as to identify its object. Let’s take the example of a 3 meter long, fairly wide board that we have to cross. If it is on the ground or placed at a low height we will do it without apprehension. Now if we take the same board and place it 50 meters above the void our reaction will be completely different. The reflected part of our brain will not see any difference but the emotional system, at the visceral level, will generate a feeling of intense fear. This example shows us that the affective system functions independently of conscious thought. This same system also allows us to make decisions. Contrary to what we think, it is not rational thoughts that allow us to make decisions, even simple ones, but our emotions. Cognition interprets and understands the world around us while emotions allow us to make quick decisions about them. In fact, if we go to a bakery to choose a cake, it is not logic that will allow us to choose, but affect that will tell us which cake will generate more taste pleasure. However, there is another parameter to take into account. Studies of emotions have shown that they originate at three different levels of the brain: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. The first one is automatic and defines what is good or bad, it is the beginning of the affect process. The behavioral level focuses on what comes out of the visceral level and improves or inhibits a behavior that will be triggered. The reflective level streamlines environmental information to influence the behavioral level. In our everyday life this is how these 3 different levels can appear:

  • When we go to a haunted house we experience visceral reactions of surprise and fear,
  • When we cut meat with a knife, we experience the behavioral level by performing repetitive gestures with minimal concentration so that we can cut ourselves at certain times.
  • When we play a complex music score it is the reflective level that comes into play; we analyze the score to play it and our fingers play instinctively.

It is essential to understand that the first two levels are subconscious, which is what allows us to do several things at the same time such as driving and thinking about something at the same time. These levels are therefore of paramount importance in the way we interact because emotions influence our behavior.

Last interesting point, these 3 levels can find themselves in opposition and take precedence over others depending on the situation and the person, that’s why we do not all react in the same way. A simple example, a year ago I made a skydiving jump with a friend, we thought about it at the same time and decided to go for it on a whim. We scheduled the jump two days before and from then on our reactions and emotions were different. At first, my friend was a little apprehensive about the jump, while I felt nothing but excitement and anticipation. On the day of the jump, she had no apprehension at all and wanted to jump, while I was scared when I got on the plane and started shaking and clenching my teeth and couldn’t control myself. Finally, we both jumped, a lot of emotions came up and the adrenaline and excitement on landing were immense. You can see here that the different levels did not arrive in the same order for my friend and me. She first felt fear, the visceral part at first, then the reflective part intervened and the behavior that resulted when the time came was only due to the excitement. For me, the reflection came at the beginning, when I programmed the jump but in the plane, the visceral part generated fear.
We have just seen how emotions are created, how they are ours, and how they influence our behaviors and reactions, so it is time to think about how they relate to objects.

The generation of an emotion in relation to an object

Emotions change our behavior in a time that can be very short in order to give an immediate response to a situation that makes us feel positive or negative. When we are in a negative, stressed, anxious state, our brain focuses on one thing, the source of this state, and the emotional system is alerted at all levels so that there is a very quick reaction in case of a problem. Conversely, when we are in a positive state, we are open to what surrounds us, much more curious and creative. What does this have to do with design? This is it. A relaxed, joyful designer in a good mood is more creative.
We can also ask ourselves how through their design objects generate positive or negative emotions? To do this, let’s go back to our 3 levels and link them to design, so that gives: visceral design, behavioral design, and reflective design.

What is the impact of emotions in the generation of awkward interactions? It has been proven through different studies such as Masaaki Kurosu and Kaoru Kashimura, researchers that the attractiveness of an object influences its usability.

Visceral design is what gives us a good or bad first impression and symbolizes the attractiveness of an object, which is personal to us and felt as soon as we see the object. At this level, the information about the object is already pre-made and preconceived based on its appearance, its touch, it’s feeling.
Some time ago I bought a very simple object, a pen. It has no particular function, has only one color of ink, and is not refillable. So why did I buy it? This pen is a unicorn pen with fun colors that made me laugh, that’s all. When I bought it I didn’t think about the fact that it could be more complicated to use because of its shape and weight, nor did I think that its shape would make it impossible to fit in a pencil case and yet I don’t regret this purchase or complain about its use. The awkward interactions that I encounter with this object come from the characteristics of its appearance or as it is these same characteristics that pushed me to buy it I don’t think about it and I adapt myself.

Behavioral design is the experience we have of the object through its use. This experience is based on several things: function, performance, and usability. At this point, the positive or negative effects depend on the emotion generated by the use, was it frustrating or amusing?
I’ve had various TV remote controls, one of them leaves me with a special memory. When I first had it in my hands I tried to turn it on by pressing the on/off button, until then everything was understandable, but nothing happened. I tried, again and again, to check the presence of batteries, the position of the batteries and try again. It took me a good 5 minutes of unsuccessful testing to understand that for the remote control to work I had to stay pressing the button for 5 to 10s. This experience was quite frustrating and after this one every time I used this remote control I found the ignition time incredibly long. Here the emotions generated by this awkward interaction made it unpleasant and unsatisfying for all the interactions with this remote that followed.

Reflective design is about the message, culture, and meaning of the product and its use. It is completely conscious and it is about the interpretation, understanding, and resonance of the object. The reflective level determines a person’s overall impression of an object. An object is more than its functionality, its value is how it meets people’s emotional needs, how it allows them to give them the image they want. Let’s imagine that I have a passion for cars and more precisely for speed, I have the opportunity to buy a very fast Ferrari car, I buy it for myself knowing that no matter which car I own the speed limit will always be the same. So I have a race car that I will never go very fast with.


The emotion and the attractiveness of the object have an influence on us, however we must keep in mind that this notion of attractiveness can be different from one culture to another. Does this cultural difference have an impact on interactions?

Definition, in progress

  • A Clumsy interaction doesn’t happen at the moment we use the object, it was there before and can come from the designer and his personal vision of the use of the object.
  • A Clumsy interaction can depend on the conception of an object and more specifically on the design of the experience related to this object when trying to manipulate it, activate it, make it work, and understand it.
  • A Clumsy interaction has several causes, one of which is mostly conceptual. When the origin of the awkward interaction is inappropriate and deliberate behavior, it is then a human error of the user.
  • A Clumsy interaction can be the result of a lack of curiosity.
  • A Clumsy interaction depends on the level and type of emotions the object will generate in the user before, during, or after its use.

Book: Emotional Design, Don Norman, 2003
Article: Les émotions dans le design – les trois niveaux du design, UX-FR

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 07: Are we curious about our daily life?

In this article we are going to talk about curiosity, this faculty that allows us to be interested in the environment that surrounds us and that could prove to be a key element in our way of apprehending the latter and thus in the understanding of clumsy interactions.

What is curiosity?

Curiosity is described as a “tendency to learn, to know new and hidden things” by the Robert dictionary. It is a faculty that we exercise in different ways and that can be stimulated, these are its first characteristics that we are going to study.

First of all, we can establish that curiosity is an innate quality that we all possess and have had since birth. Indeed when we are babies it is this faculty that makes us want to experiment and interact with the objects that surround us through our touch and our taste. When we observe a baby with a toy he is most of the time testing it either by shaking it or by putting it in his mouth, by doing this he explores the object. This phase of experimentation and study of the object, the actions it can perform with it and its effects are called “the stage of active experimentation” by Jean Piaget. It is very important to understand that curiosity is an innate faculty that develops over time and that depending on the context we will not all have the same level of curiosity. One of the key elements in its development comes from the presence or not of a “secure base”, it is its presence that will, for example, reassure a child and give him the confidence to go exploring. During childhood, this secure base often corresponds to the parents, if they are not there the child will not try to venture into a new environment because he will consider it potentially dangerous. The relationship with our parents can also influence the development of curiosity, if this secure base is not stable then the child will be only slightly curious. We can also note that this secure base evolves over time and can become a group of friends, a spouse, co-workers, etc …

The second source of the development of curiosity will have an important role in awkward interactions, it is the result of interactions with the environment. Through the environment, curiosity is awakened and reinforced in the child through positive emotions that follow successes in his explorations. Indeed, when a child begins to interact with what surrounds him, he discovers that among the multiple interactions he experiences, some generate positive sensations and emotions. For example, by putting a pacifier in his mouth he will realize that this contact generates a sensation of pleasure, he will want to find or reproduce this sensation by bringing other objects to his lips. As Jean Piaget has shown, we can only evolve thanks to and through exchanges with our environment. If curiosity is essential to the discovery of our environment, the latter is essential to the development of our capacities. Let’s take the example of language, we are pre-programmed to develop it yet without an environment requiring communication it is tough to acquire it.

Let us recall the important elements of the development of curiosity:

  • the secure base gives the human being confidence to explore his environment for the first time.
  • Interactions with the environment are a source of emotions, when the emotion generated is positive it makes one want to start again.

What is the place of curiosity in the awkward interactions of everyday life?

We have seen that curiosity is both an innate and learned capacity, we have explained its development in childhood but what about its place in our adult life and in our daily life. We will therefore study this curiosity in our daily life through 2 aspects, the first corresponds to the appearance of a novelty, and the second to a habit.

Facing something new

In our lives, we have all the time the opportunity to experience new things, new activities, to use new objects. Curiosity is a key element that allows us to progress, invent and innovate. However, when we are faced with something new, the behavior we adopt is not always that of someone who is curious. On the contrary, we can be rather refractory for various reasons. The first one is due to our brain which likes to save itself and therefore does not necessarily appreciate the novelty that will require it to use cognitive resources for understanding. For example, I will persuade myself to buy the same model of the coffee maker because the others are full of new functions that will be useless to me, but the real reason is that I don’t want to waste energy learning how to use a new coffee maker.
The second is negative anticipation of what might happen, in which case we prefer not to change anything for fear that this novelty might trigger negative emotions or sensations. This negative anticipation blocks curiosity. For example, a new printer has just arrived in our company, we have received like all the other employees its instructions and have read them. If we anticipate a bad manipulation on our part when we first use this printer, we can remain blocked until one of our colleagues has shown us how to do so. We see here that negative anticipation abolishes all confidence, we anticipate a clumsy interaction that does not yet exist.

Curiosity in our daily life

In our everyday life we use a lot of objects but why? Primitive man developed an “interested” curiosity, his objective was to acquire a knowledge of the environment sufficiently important to be able to use it afterward by bending it to his requirements. That’s how objects were born and since then we have been progressing year after year to create more and more sophisticated ones. This curiosity that pushes us to invent allows us to feel a feeling of pleasure when we manage to build the object and then to make it work. It is this same pleasure, this same pride that we feel when we find an answer to a question or a problem. We have learned through curiosity to create and master new objects, but nowadays, with the number of objects that populate our lives, we do not necessarily feel this pleasure towards all the objects we possess. Here is an example, my parents have a washing machine, my mother learned to use it quite quickly while my father has not developed any interest in it. Today, he doesn’t master it and systematically asks my mother which button he has to press to start the washing machine. As he has no feeling of satisfaction when he interacts with this washing machine he has no curiosity about how it works, unlike my mother who, when she turns on a machine, feels satisfaction in mocking a line on her to-do list. That’s how we all work, we don’t master all the everyday objects by choice, but only what interests us. This is a clumsy interaction due to a lack of voluntary curiosity.


In this article, we have seen that our level of curiosity is related to the emotions generated by our interactions with our environment. It is interesting to deepen the link between emotion and object.

Definition, in progress

  • A Clumsy interaction doesn’t happen at the moment we use the object, it was there before and can come from the designer and his personal vision of the use of the object.
  • A Clumsy interaction can depend on the conception of an object and more specifically on the design of the experience related to this object when trying to manipulate it, activate it, make it work, and understand it.
  • A Clumsy interaction has several causes, one of which is mostly conceptual. When the origin of the awkward interaction is inappropriate and deliberate behavior, it is then a human error of the user.
  • A Clumsy interaction can be the result of a lack of curiosity.

Sources :
Book: Les Pouvoirs de la curiosité, Flavia Mannocci, 2016
Article: Jean Piaget, Wikipedia

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 06:A Typical Day of Clumsy Interaction

I have devoted all my previous articles to research, it is time to see if my conclusions are in line with the reality of everyday life. I have therefore decided to analyze all the interactions of my daily life in order to unearth those that are awkward, to study them, and to understand them.

Let’s take one of my typical days and start my analysis in the kitchen. This is the first space where I start my day and the one where I think I am most likely to find awkward interactions. My first action in the morning is to grab a bottle of milk from the fridge. A clumsy action and interaction that appears.


The first awkward interaction of my day comes from my fridge and more specifically from the way I can open it. My fridge doesn’t have a handle, I’ve known that since I’ve had it, and yet I never tried to find out if there was a hidden handle and where it could be. I finally realized that the handle that had been created by the designers was a recess at the bottom, just above the freezer opening. I tried to open the door with this handle and soon realized that the location of the handle required a lot more effort. So the awkwardness comes from two things, first finding the handle was not easy because there was no indication and no meaning. Second, the location of the handle does not make it easy to open the door, which makes the interaction even more awkward.


Right next to the fridge I can find the oven, connected to the hob. Its use is simple and the pictograms are all understandable. The problem I find with this oven comes from the indicator lights. One is accompanied by a pictogram related to the hob and the other to the oven. However, when the oven is activated the indicator light of the baking trays lights up, the one concerning the oven is even stranger, it lights up when I change the temperature, seeming to indicate when the oven has reached the temperature but never goes out. With this oven, it is therefore very complicated for me to establish when the oven is turned on and especially when it has reached the requested temperature, this is where the awkward interaction is.

Washing Machine

My next clumsy interaction concerns my washing machine, it is composed of 4 buttons offering the following commands: fragile, color, cotton, normal. At first glance, the use seems simple, but as I don’t have the manual, I don’t know what each button corresponds to in terms of temperature and spin power. It is this lack of information that generates awkward interaction because every time I choose a program it seems to me to be a random choice. Here there is an object with buttons, therefore affordances, and annotations or signifiers, the problem lies in the understanding of these signifiers.


Another of the awkward interactions I may have had come from one of my earrings. I recently bought myself an earring, the saleswoman put it on without me looking at how the mechanism was made. When I got home I tried to take it off and realized that it didn’t work when I was pulling, so I figured it was an earring specific to the piercing store and I would have to go back and get it removed. It wasn’t until two days later that I realized that it was a screw earring and so I had to turn it around to get it removed. This awkward interaction is peculiar because its source comes from the fact that I didn’t see the person putting the earring on me, so I couldn’t have a conceptual model to understand how to remove it but also from my own knowledge because until then I didn’t know this type of clasp and therefore I hadn’t tried to turn the earring because I didn’t see the need for it.


One of the awkward interactions of my day was with a simple object that we all know: batteries. They come in all shapes and sizes, and the ones I’m interested in are the smallest ones that are round. The awkward interaction with batteries is quite obvious, it knows which way we’re going to put them, where is the least, and where are the most. What I find particularly complex with batteries is that it’s an object that needs a lot of meaning. You need both 2 signifiers on the stacks to understand where is the least and where is the most, and you also need these same signifiers on the object that will contain the stacks in order to understand in which direction to put them. The peculiarity of small batteries is that the sign is complicated to read, it is only indicated on one side, and moreover when handling them if we touch both sides at the same time, with our fingers, we risk to discharge them. And all this information is not easy to find.

The tramway

Finally, let’s leave my apartment and take the streetcar. Being used to Parisian public transportation, I didn’t expect to be confronted with a clumsy interaction in the Graz streetcar. Indeed, Parisian transports have a wide variety of door openings ranging from the manipulation of a handle to an automatic opening, with no action to perform. I must confess that I did not understand what triggers the opening of the Graz streetcar door between the automatic opening and the action of pressing the door button. Here I may not have had the codes to understand what triggers this opening.

I have just described 6 clumsy interactions that populate my daily life but I am sure that there are still others that I have not yet spotted.

This intensive research on the objects that surround me, has allowed me to reflect on my way of perceiving them, and the importance that awkward interactions have in my daily life. It made me realize one thing, these clumsinesses have been there for a long time but I only started to notice them when I looked for them. Why wasn’t I curious about these objects earlier?

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 05: Is it dependent on the user?

We have identified in the previous articles that clumsy interactions depend largely on a bad concept of an object, but let’s not forget that during an interaction there are at least two interacting elements: the human and the object. Thus we can wonder what is the place of the human in the clumsiness. Today we attribute to a human the responsibility of a clumsy interaction is when an incident occurs and that his action is questioned, we speak of human error. It is estimated that 75 to 95% of industrial accidents are caused by human error. However, we can wonder if the error really comes from human beings, perhaps it is a bad design that has not been detected? This is what we will try to understand in this article.

Origin of the Errors

What is human error? It is a drift of a so-called “appropriate” behavior. This drift comes from the fact that the so-called appropriate behavior is not known or is only defined after the fact.
Today, there are several factors at the origin of human errors, the most common one comes from the nature of the tasks we have to do, which may require a mechanical behavior: to remain attentive over too long a period of time or to follow procedures that are much too specific. As we said earlier, when we create an object or a mechanism, we very easily take into account the physical limitations because they are tangible, the mental limitations remain intangible and much more difficult to apprehend. Without them our mental conceptual model is inconceivable. However, if we are unable to develop a conceptual model, it amounts to asking a user to behave artificially. In our example, we did not consider the idea that the resemblance between the buttons and their layout made them identical and therefore the distinction between the commands was impossible.

When an error occurs, it can cause various effects, serious or not, such as injury, financial loss, or material damage. This error, therefore, needs an explanation, we are looking to find its cause, not to understand it. And that is how some errors become human errors. Let’s take the example of a person who works in a warehouse, one night when leaving he makes a mistake with some orders and instead of closing the doors he opens one. The next day, when he returns to the warehouse, he realizes that things were stolen because the door was open. This person will be designated as the culprit, so he will be considered the cause of the problem. However, this reasoning is erroneous because we have not considered here that there could be more than one cause for a mistake and that the person responsible for the problem may only be the immediate cause and not the root cause of the problem, which is the underlying cause.

We must try to understand why this error occurred so that we can find a real solution.
It is with this goal of discovering that it is the root cause of an error that Japanese people use the Kaizen method called “the five whys”. This means that there can always be a cause hidden behind another cause and that one can find the root cause by asking the question why 5 times. This is a very efficient process and must be done by a team close to the field.

Now that we have a first approach to the root cause of an error we need to understand its link with humans. Generally speaking, an error is not considered as a technical problem or a bad design, it is seen as a personal failure, which means that we do not have the ability to understand how to interact well. A person making an error will therefore tend to blame himself and be blamed yet if we make errors it is because the design focuses on the needs of the system and not those of humans. So we may make errors out of fear of making them or out of fear of being held responsible for some of them.

Slips and Mistakes

Human error can be divided into two categories: slips and mistakes. “Slips occur when a person tries to do one action and ends up doing another. A mistake occurs when the goal set is not the right one or when the plan is not correct,” defines Don Norman.
These types of error do not occur at the same stages of the action. It is important to understand that an action is divided into 7 stages which are divided into two distinct categories: the first one is instinctive and subconscious and the second one is perceived and conscious. The failures correspond to the subconscious stages of action and the misunderstandings to the conscious ones.

Slips are mostly everyday mistakes: when we are used to doing a task, we tend to do it automatically and therefore lack attention, so we can make the wrong action. For example, I go to work every morning turning right, on Saturday I have to run my errands going left, yet I go right. These misfires can lead to clumsy interactions if the design doesn’t take them into account. So designers should avoid procedures that are similar and start with the same steps because there is a risk of confusing them.
Mistakes are due to a human decision. They happen when we are faced with a new situation that does not fit our routine. We are going to have the first type of mistake when we use a new device that we think we know because we had one that looked like it, in this case, the mistake comes from the fact that we are going to use it based on the knowledge of our first device and it may be inappropriate. The second type of mistake comes from a rigid and underdeveloped procedure. For example, I instruct security guards to block anyone who runs out if the guards follow this procedure in case of fire and everyone stays in the burning building.

The user may be responsible

So far, we have been able to understand that what we mostly call human errors are in fact design errors generating awkward interactions. However, this is not the case for all human errors. The human is responsible when the root cause corresponds to a deliberate action on his part. For example an alcoholic person causing an accident is responsible for it and the design of the car is not to be questioned.


There is a tendency to label all awkward interactions as a human error even though they have a conceptual origin, human error should only correspond to inappropriate and deliberate behavior.
We were therefore able to establish a link between the user and his role in the generation of awkward interactions. All this allows us to understand that when we design something, we need to create disaster scenarios in order to detect potential awkward interactions and avoid them.

Definition, In progress

  • A Clumsy interaction doesn’t happen at the moment we use the object, it was there before and can come from the designer and his personal vision of the use of the object.
  • A Clumsy interaction can depend on the conception of an object and more specifically on the design of the experience related to this object when trying to manipulate it, activate it, make it work, and understand it.
  • A Clumsy interaction has several causes, one of which is mostly conceptual. When the origin of the awkward interaction is inappropriate and deliberate behavior, it is then a human error of the user.

Sources :
Book: The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman, 2020

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 04: Is it dependent on the object?

In this article we will discuss the different design elements that make an object can generate awkward interactions.

The 5 Psychological Concepts Creating Good Interaction

In the previous article, we talked about the principle of discoverability, for this principle is the result of 5 fundamental psychological concepts: affordance, signifiers, mappings, constraints, and feedback. It is these 5 concepts that will allow us to create when discovering an object, an experience coupled with optimal use of the object. Let’s now discover what these 5 concepts are and their implications in clumsy interactions.

Affordance :

We live in a world full of all kinds of objects, we use and discover new ones every day. Whatever the object we manage to master, and affordance is one of the first things that allow us to explain this. First named by the psychologist James J. Gibson, it refers to the relationship between a physical object and a person, a relationship that will help that person determine how to use an object. It describes all the actions made physically possible by an object. We can take the example of a closet, we know we can pull its doors open or push them shut. Don Norman brings a specification to the term affordance, he talks about perceived affordance, this point is very important because it is he who can show us how an affordance error can generate a clumsy interaction. This new term designates the actions that the user perceives as possible, as opposed to those that are actually possible. I was looking for a common example of a situation generated by an affordance problem, so I remembered buying a pair of pants some time ago. The pants had pockets on them, or at least that’s what I thought until I wore them and realized that they were fake pockets. This is an example showing that the action that I wanted to perform, that is to say to put my hand in my pocket, could not be done because the object did not allow it. But it is just as valid in the other direction sometimes actions cannot be performed because the user does not perceive them as possible. And this is where the concept of signifier comes into play.

The Signifiers :

If the affordances allow us to determine the possible actions, the signifiers tell us where we will be able to carry out this action. If one takes again the example of the pants it is the false pockets that were significant for me and led me to think that the action to put my hand in my pocket was possible at this precise place. These two concepts can be difficult to differentiate today in a world of new technology. For example, in the presence of a screen, we may tend to think that touching an icon is an affordance but this idea is false because the affordance corresponds to the action of touching the screen (wherever it is), the icon will represent the place where the action must take place, it is the signifier. Nowadays, for aesthetic reasons, it can be complicated to identify the signifiers, and therefore interacting becomes difficult. This is what we can observe with handleless closets; where should we take our opening action? Similarly, how do we choose which action to take, should we pull or push?
The handle answers all the questions, in addition to indicating where the action should be carried out, because of its location it shows us where the action is going to act, this is where the concept of mapping comes in.

The Mappings :

Mapping indicates the relationship between the two elements. For example, if we use baking trays with knobs, the mapping allows us to understand which knob is connected to which baking tray. The mapping is essential for the layout of the controls and displays. When the signifiers give a clear view of where to touch, the mapping allows us to instinctively understand what each control corresponds to. We will keep the example of the plates and see two interactions, one will be clumsy and the other not.

Here is a first hob composed of four plates. The buttons to operate each plate are placed next to each other. It is quite easy to realize that the two buttons on the left correspond to the left plates and the two buttons on the right to the right plates. However, to know which button corresponds to the top or bottom plate is more complicated, it is not possible to guess it naturally and therefore it must be tested with the risk of burning yourself.

Here is a second hob, more modern and based on tactile contact. The buttons to activate the plates are positioned like the plates, when we want to activate a plate we don’t ask ourselves and we are sure that it is the right one with this model.

It is important to specify that today, the majority of cooking tables with physical buttons have pictograms that make their understanding easier. Nevertheless, having this kind of hob I can attest to the fact that even with regular use I almost always check the pictogram to identify the right hob, so it’s simple but not intuitive. Let’s remember that the intuitive aspect of an object depends on the ability of the designer to provide the essential elements to understand the object and its limits.
These limits can be constraints.

The Constraints :

The constraint in itself does not need to be explained, it is known to everyone. On the other hand, we can explain the different types of constraints that are applied to objects by creators in order to limit the possible actions. There are four of them: physical, cultural, semantic, and logical.
The physical constraint is simple to understand, it is the one that limits the possible operations. For example, it is easy to realize that the wrong key is used to open the door because it will not make the lock work.
Cultural constraint is more difficult to grasp. Indeed, each culture defines a set of authorized actions in social situations. So if we misunderstand a culture, it is easy to make mistakes and create things that can be considered inappropriate. What’s more, these constraints are likely to change over time.
The semantic constraint is based on meaning, it is based on the knowledge of a situation in order to codify possible actions. For example, a windshield is there to protect the face of a person in a car, so it makes sense to put it in front of her. However, like cultural constraints, semantic constraints are also likely to evolve.
Finally, there is the logical constraint, based as its name suggests on logic. This constraint is particularly related to the principle of mapping. If we take again the example of the hob, it is logical to think that the knob on the top right will correspond to the plate on the top right and if this is not the case it is because there is a problem in the conception.

The Feedback

Finally, our last concept is feedback. When an object is designed so that we can identify affordance using the signifier, the mapping is clear and the constraints identified, the feedback will ensure that we have an understanding of the other four concepts. Feedback is the element that allows us to understand that our action has been taken into account. For example, when I use my oven and start my program, I hear a sound signal or see the oven light come on. Without this feedback, I am likely, in doubt, to repeat the action or even modify it, which can lead to awkward interactions. An obvious example is that of the elevator, if there is no visual or audible indication that the call has been answered we are likely to press the button again and again until the elevator arrives. Attention, this feedback must be thought to correspond to the action. Thus, if when we call the elevator an alarm sound is triggered we will certainly not stay waiting for it.

The Conceptual Model

The conceptual model allows explaining the functioning of an object in a simple way. It is the one that will allow us to create a simple mental model and make it easier to use: for example, when we see the “folder” or “file” icon on a computer. The simplest conceptual models are those that should be used for everyday objects because they remain in our memory and become our mental models. Beware, however, analyzing a conceptual model will create different mental models for different people, so let’s remember the engineer from the previous article who just forgot that his mental model is different from the users’ one. Conceptual models derive from the devices themselves and are created by the experience. Since an experience differs from one individual to another and unforeseen things can happen, the mental models it generates often end up being erroneous.s This is where the awkward interaction happens, if I have an erroneous conceptual model of an object, so will my use of it. A good conceptual model is used to understand how the elements will behave together and why they should be operated in a particular way. Let’s take the remote control, no matter what its shape or model I don’t know anyone who has used all the buttons on that object, let alone someone who can explain to me what each button corresponds to. In my opinion, the majority of people using remote control have a faulty conceptual model of it. Indeed, for it to be right, the person would have to understand all the actions that can be performed which is complicated when you don’t need to use them.


We have seen that many elements can influence our experience and our interactions with an object, negatively or positively. The concepts we have just mentioned are major points of vigilance when designing an object, to limit clumsy interactions.

Definition, in progress

  • A clumsy interaction doesn’t happen at the moment we use the object, it was there before and can come from the designer and his personal vision of the use of the object.
  • A Clumsy interaction can depend on the conception of an object and more specifically on the design of the experience related to this object when trying to manipulate it, activate it, make it work, and understand it.

Sources :
Book: The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman, 2020
Article: Affordance in user interface design, UX Collective, 2017

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 03: The birth of clumsy interactions

Our goal through the next articles will be to evolve our definition of a clumsy interaction in order to build one as complete as possible.

The controller

Recently I bought a new controller, very classic and battery operated. Here’s what happened to me when I decided to put batteries in. Locating the battery compartment was simple but opening it was more complicated. I first tried to open it by pressing the little button on top, it was my first instinctive action and it didn’t work. I tried again, 2, 3 times, and decided to read the instructions to see if I was using the right technique. The good point is that the instructions told me that what I was doing was what I was supposed to do, the bad point is that I didn’t know why it didn’t work. After several more attempts, I realized that I had to press the button while moving the compartment. This action could be instinctive but the pressure to be put on the button being quite important I didn’t dare to do it because of the risk of breaking the lever. This was my new clumsy interaction of the week.

Initially, I had analyzed this operation in the following way: “I decided to use an object, by interacting with it I make a mistake or can’t get what I want, that’s where the awkward interaction is born”. This was my starting point, when there is a problem in our interaction it becomes awkward, yet after reading the book The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman I realize that this is not correct. The awkwardness in the use of the object comes from its creation but I only recognized it as such when I realized that there was a problem.
So to understand clumsy interactions, it is first necessary to understand their origin and to do this we must go back to the creation of the object or even the birth of the idea.

Origin of the object

To understand the origin of the objects, I researched who were the creators of the objects of our everyday life. Were they engineers, researchers, designers, salesmen, or just everyone who had an idea?
Following my investigations, I would say that the objects of our everyday life have been largely thought of by specialists; by this, I mean engineers, researchers, and designers.
It is important to know that it is mostly specialists who design everyday objects because this explains the origin of certain awkward interactions. Indeed, when an engineer, an expert, creates an object, he uses his experience and technical knowledge of this type of object to design it. His approach is strongly influenced by his way of thinking and is therefore mainly aimed at people who think like him. As Don Norman says, “Engineers are formatted to think logically. As a result, they come to imagine that all people think the same way and they design their machine based on that idea”. Therefore a casual user, who is not trained as an engineer, may have difficulty using the object, and that’s where the awkwardness comes in.
In the next article, we will go deeper into the errors in object design that cause clumsy interaction.

At the extreme, this conception mode, which excludes the user experience, may explain the lack of usefulness or meaning of some objects. So during my research, I discovered an article called “35 inventions that will change everything”, it’s an old article from 2010. In this article, the author evaluates the different inventions he exposes according to two criteria: the probability that these objects will end up existing and their usefulness. This second criterion says a lot, let’s keep in mind that an object must meet a need.

Recognize clumsy interactions

Now that we have been able to establish a first cause for the appearance of awkward interactions. How can we identify, as users, the awkward interactions of our daily life?
Don Norman in his book addresses 2 key notions: discoverability and understanding. These 2 notions are part of our interactive experiences. Discoverability occurs when we are facing an object for the first time, we quickly analyze it in order to know how to use it and what are our possible actions. With this first notion, it is easier to spot the awkwardness because we do not know the object and we will therefore notice quite quickly the problems we have to use it. Let’s observe ourselves:

  • Do we need to publish a manual?
  • Do we need to analyze its signage?
  • Do we instinctively know what not to touch?
  • Finally, if it is a new model of an object we already have, does it have the same codes as the previous ones?

Let’s now take an object we have already been around for a long time: How can we know if it is clumsy? Our study of the object must be more thorough, and we must try to understand why we use it like this, and moreover, if we have the right use for it, even the same use as our neighbor. In the same way, do we know all the uses? Let’s take the concrete example of the washing machine: very few people know all its functionalities and each one uses only the ones they need. Here the question is even to know if the sum of our partial uses is equal to total use. So many questions that will generate so many different answers depending on the users.


Conceptor, therefore, bear a major responsibility for creating awkward interactions, of which we users can be the victims. If we wish we can recognize very quickly a clumsy interaction thanks to the discoverability we can apply to objects we have been using for a long time.

Definition, in progress

  • A clumsy interaction doesn’t happen at the moment we use the object, it was there before and can come from the designer and his personal vision of the use of the object.

Now that we have established our first draft definition, with the designer’s role as a starting point, one may wonder about the importance of design in awkward interactions.

Source :
Book: The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman, 2020
Article: 35 inventions that will change everything, L’actualité, 2010

Clumsy Interactions through everyday objects 02

We are surrounded by objects in our daily life, thought by us, to be as useful as possible. However, we do not exploit all their potential. Why is this?

What’s more common than a pot, a juice carton or a bag of take-out food? What if I told you that most of us don’t know how to use them as their designer intended? You think you’re in the category of those who know. Are you sure about that?

Did you know that the hole on the tip of the pan allows the spatula to rest?

Or were you aware that most of us use the orange juice bottle upside down?

And finally, did you think that a doggy bag could unfold to become a plate?

Through these 3 objects, we realize that the solutions that the creators have found to simplify our lives are totally unknown to us.
While being anchored in our daily life, the interactions we have with these objects are awkward.
Indeed, while these objects are simple and practical, we have found other ways to interact, more instinctive but less optimal.
Faced with this paradox, we can begin to ask ourselves many questions about the way we apprehend the objects around us. After all, we are not so sure we know our everyday life so well.

Here are the various questions that these awkward interactions raise:
How to recognize a clumsy interaction?
How do awkward interactions with everyday objects arise?

  • Does it depend on me/user?
  • Does it depend on the object?
  • Does it depend on the emotion linked to the object?
  • Does it depend on how we saw the object used by the other?
  • Does it depend on our curiosity about the object?

Do they have an influence on our behavior and habits?

  • Why do we reproduce them ad infinitum?
  • Do we need them?
  • Do they generate progress?

If we interact so awkwardly with such simple objects, we may wonder how awkward we can be with more complex objects?

For the articles to follow I will try to answer these different questions.

Clumsy Interaction


I’m clumsy, it’s one of my characteristics and it’s always the first-word people use to describe me.
I thought a lot about this word and ended up asking myself the question: Is it me who is clumsy or my interactions? So what is a clumsy interaction? For me, it includes all interactions that result in a different outcome than expected, whether it is a man-to-man or man-to-machine relationship.
I wondered where this awkwardness could come from, and if it was inappropriate behavior? Indeed, when we consider something different or have difficulty understanding it, we try to adapt our behavior and this adaptation is not always successful and this is what I would call awkward interaction.
In some cases, the adaptation is quick and after two or three clumsinesses, our behavior becomes adequate, while in other cases, the adaptation seems impossible and the clumsinesses are recurrent.
By studying a human’s behavior, we can understand how he functions and the situations he has difficulty coping with. Through this research, I plan to use Behavioural Design to better understand the subject.


What interests me about interaction design is that it is centered on the human, his behavior, and the way he interacts with his environment, both real-time and digital.
My main motivation for this subject is above all to understand human behavior because before analyzing interactions that can be awkward, it is necessary to understand how humans interact. It is also to understand their relationship to the object, how it is characterized because it is a key element in the appearance of awkwardness.


I decided to focus on this research on clumsy interactions between humans and machines or between humans and objects. I am trying to understand where this awkwardness comes from, at what level it appears, and what the factors are. Here are different examples and scenarios that lead me to the main questioning of my research.

Understanding clumsy interaction

First example

Video :

We have an older person, she uses her phone, and like many people her age, she has difficulty understanding all the possible uses. Her interaction with the object is limited by her lack of knowledge, not intuitive of the object and this creates awkwardness.

Exactly the opposite of this scenario we have the interactions between children and smartphones. These interactions are intuitive and above all too important. Where older people will have difficulty in appropriating the object, children, digital natives, will make it an extension of themselves. And in that, it is also a clumsy interaction because a smartphone is there to be used as intelligently as reasonably.
Let’s now talk about Beatrice Schneider’s Tody concept, which focuses on this subject by creating a product that makes the link with the phone and aims to reduce the time of use of smartphones by children. This small object serves as a vector between the family, the child, and the phone.

What is also very interesting with this product is the fact that it is equipped with two eyes, a mouth, and four legs, which makes it immediately more alive.
All this information leads me to a first question:

What is the impact of society and new technologies on our interactions and behaviors, according to our profile?

Second example

Let’s now take as a reference a garbage can and the attitude we have towards it. It is an everyday object, yet our consideration of this object is negative, we tend to find it dirty and we don’t particularly like to interact with it.

Objects are the basis of our everyday interactions, but more than objects, machines are also present in our daily lives. It is important to see that today we try to minimize the discomfort and awkwardness in our contact with objects and machines through personification.
Let’s take the example of the robot Nina from the CNRS, which aims to assist people and help them in their daily life. What is interesting with this robot is that it has been given a personality and humanity through its face. He has lips, articulated jaw, irises, eyelids and is animated to reproduce facial expressions. This “human” appearance will not theoretically be of any use to the robot, yet it will allow people to perceive him differently and thus give him a real place in everyday life.

A well-known example of the implementation of human behavior in a robot is the movie Wally, where we are shown the history and “life” of a robot, we can feel emotions and empathy when looking at it because we can clearly see eyes and a head.
All this information leads me to a second question:

How do we consider objects through our interactions?