Seven stages of action

Seven stages of action

"Seven Stages of Action" is a term coined by the famed usability consultant Donald Norman. He explains this phrase in chapter two of his book "The Design of Everyday Things" in the context of explaining the psychology of a person behind the task performed by him or her.

Building up the Stages


The history behind the Action Cycle (inset:picture - right) starts from a conference in Italy attended by Donald Norman.This excerpt has been taken from the book "Design of Everyday Things":-

"I am in Italy at a conference. i watch the next speaker attempt to thread a film onto a projector that he never used before. He puts the reel into place, then takes it off and reverses it. Another person comes to help. Jointly they thread the film through the projector and hold the free end, discussing how to put it on the takeup reel. Two more people come over to help and then another. The voices grow louder, in three languages: Italian, German and English. One person investigates the controls, manipulating each and announcing the result. Confusion mounts. I can no longer observe all that is happening. The conference organizer comes over. After a few moments he turns and faces he audience, which has been waiting patiently in the auditorium. "Ahem," he says, "is anybody expert in projectors?" Finally, fourteen minutes after the speaker had started to thread the film (and eight minutes after the scheduled start of the session) a blue-coated technician appears. He scowls, then promptly takes the entire film off the projector, rethreads it, and gets it working." ["Norman, Donald A., "Psychology of Everyday Action". "The Design of Everyday Things". New York: Basic Book, 1988. 45-46"]

Norman, pondered on the reasons that made something like threading of a projector difficult to do. To examine this, he wanted to know what happened when something implied nothing. In order to do that, he examined the structure of an action. So to get something done, a notion of what is wanted - the goal that is to be achieved, needs to be started. Then, something is done to the world i.e. take action to move oneself or manipulate someone or something. Finally, the checking is required if the goal was made. This led to formulation of Stages of Execution and Evaluation. ["Norman, Donald A., "Psychology of Everyday Action". "The Design of Everyday Things". New York: Basic Book, 1988. 46"]

Stages of Execution

"Execution" formally means to perform or do something. Norman explains that a person sitting on an armchair while reading a book during dusk time, might need more light when it becomes dimmer and dimmer. To do that, he needs to switch button of a lamp or light-bulb i.e. get more light (the goal). To do this, one must need to specify on how to move one's body, how to stretch to reach the light switch and how to extend one's finger to push the button. The goal has to be translated into an intention, which in turn has to be made into an action sequence.

Thus, formulation of stages of execution:-
* Start at the top with the "goal", the state that is to be achieved.
* The goal is translated into an "intention" to do some action.
* The intention must be translated into a set of internal commands, an "action sequence" that can performed to satisfy the intention.
* The action sequence is still a mutual even: nothing happens until it is "executed", performed upon the world.

Stages of Evaluation

"Evaluation" formally means to examine and calculate. Norman explains that after turning on the light, we evaluate if it is actually turned on. A careful judgement is then passed on how the light has affected our world i.e. the room in which the person is sitting on the armchair while reading a book.

The formulation of the stages of evaluation can be described as:-
* Evaluation starts with our "perception" of the world.
* This perception must then be "interpreted" according to our expectations.
* Then is is compared "(evaluated)" with respect to both our intentions and our goals.

Seven Stages of Action

Seven Stages of Action constitute three stages of execution, three stages of evaluation and our goals.
* Forming the goal
* Forming the intention
* Specifying an action
* Executing the action
* Perceiving the state of the world
* Interpreting the state of the world
* Evaluating the outcome []

The Gulfs

The Gulf of Execution

The difference between the intentions and the allowable actions is the "Gulf of execution" [Kirkpatrick, Ted. "Lecture on Cognition and Perception". "User Interface Design". Simon Fraser University. 2002] .

"Consider the movie projector example: one problem resulted from the Gulf of Execution. The person wanted to set up the projector. Ideally, this would be a simple thing to do. But no, a long, complex sequence was required. It wasn't all clear what actions had to be done to accomplish the intentions of setting up the projector and showing the film." ["Norman, Donald A., "Psychology of Everyday Action". "The Design of Everyday Things". New York: Basic Book, 1988. 51"]

The Gulf of Evaluation

The "Gulf of evaluation" reflects the amount of effort that the person must exert to interpret the physical state of the system and to determine how well the expectations and intentions have been met. [Hearst, Marti. "Lecture on Gulf of Evaluation". "User Interface Design and Development". University of California at Berkeley. 1999. ]

"In the movie projector example there was also a problem with the Gulf of Evaluation. Even when the film was in the projector, it was difficult to tell if it had been threaded correctly." ["Norman, Donald A., "Psychology of Everyday Action". "The Design of Everyday Things". New York: Basic Book, 1988. 51-52"]

Usage as Design Aids

The seven-stage structure is referenced as design aid to act as a basic checklist for designers' [Gore, Elizabeth. "III: Donald Norman: Seven Stages of Action. "Web Site Analysis", University of Illinois at Chicago. 2004. ] questions to ensure that the Gulfs of Execution and Evaluation are bridged. ["Norman, Donald A., "Psychology of Everyday Action". "The Design of Everyday Things". New York: Basic Book, 1988. 52-53"]

The Seven Stages of Action can be broken down into 4 main principles of good design:-
* "Visibility" - By looking, the user can tell the state of the device and the alternatives for action.
* "A Good Conceptual Model" - The designer provides a good conceptual model for the user, with consistency in the presentation of operations and results and a coherent, consistent system image.
* "Good mappings" - It is possible to determine the relationships between actions and results, between the controls and their effects, and between the system state and what is visible.
* "Feedback" - The user receives full and continuous feedback about the results of the actions.


External links

* [ Don's homepage]
* [ Publications by Donald Norman] from
* [ List of Don Norman articles]
* [ Don Norman — Userati]
* [ Donald Norman's Seven Stages of Action - What are Norman's Seven Stages]
* [ University of Hawaii's Lecture on Donald Norman's book]
* [ Monash University's 2003 Monash Web Workshop Series' Lecture on Usability and Human factors]
* [ University of Limerick's (Ireland) lecture on Donald Norman]

See also

* Affordance
* Executive system
* Usability engineering
* Human action cycle
* Human-computer interaction
* Interaction Design
* User-centered design
* Visibility
* Usability
* Gulf of evaluation
* Gulf of execution

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