Reviewed in the United States on March 29, 2015
The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition by Don Norman
“The Design of Everyday Things” is a very good sequel to the first edition of this book, “The Psychology of Everyday Things” published in 1988. In this informative and enjoyable edition, educator and cognitive engineer, Don Norman provides readers with an interesting look at what constitutes good design. An advocate for user-centered design this is a helpful introduction to the world of design. This enlightening 370-page book includes the following seven chapters: 1. The Psychopathology of Everyday Things, 2. The Psychology of Everyday Actions, 3. Knowledge in the Head and in the World, 4. Knowing What to Do: Constraints Discoverability, and Feedback, 5. Human Error? No, Bad Design, 6. Design Thinking, and 7. Design in the World of Business.
1. An accessible and well-researched book. Excellent resource for professionals in the field but intended for all to enjoy.
2. The interesting topic of design in everyday products.
3. Don Norman’s credentials are outstanding and his mastery of the topic is manifested from his astute observations based on experiences in engineering, cognitive science and business. “My experiences in industry have taught me about the complexities of the real world, how cost and schedules are critical, the need to pay attention to competition, and the importance of multidisciplinary teams.”
4. A very good format. The book starts with a clear preface on where the book is going to take you.
5. Good use of tables and charts to complement the narrative.
6. Throughout the book there is an emphasis on what constitutes good design. It all starts with asking the right questions and Norman does a wonderful job of that. “Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure out what actions are possible and where and how to perform them? Understanding: What does it all mean? How is the product supposed to be used? What do all the different controls and settings mean?”
7. Explains the differences between the three main designs discussed in this book: industrial design, interaction design, and experience design.
8. Norman is an advocate for human-centered designs. “The solution is human-centered design (HCD), an approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving.”
9. The six fundamental principles of interaction: affordances, signifiers, constraints, mappings, feedback, and the conceptual model of the system. These principles are discussed with many examples to help the reader understand these important concepts. “Good conceptual models are the key to understandable, enjoyable products: good communication is the key to good conceptual models.”
10. Helpful insights on how people use products; and the seven stages of action. “When people use something, they face two gulfs: the Gulf of Execution, where they try to figure out how it operates, and the Gulf of Evaluation, where they try to figure out what happened.”
11. One of the strengths of this book is the very important but often times ignored aspect of psychology in design. “The approach I use here comes from my book Emotional Design. There, I suggested that a useful approximate model of human cognition and emotion is to consider three levels of processing: visceral, behavioral, and reflective.” “All three levels of processing work together. All play essential roles in determining a person’s like or dislike of a product or service.”
12. A key premise of this book, “…in my experience, human error usually is a result of poor design: it should be called system error.” “The hard and necessary part of design is to make things work well even when things do not go as planned.”
13. A chapter dedicated to how knowledge of the world combines with the knowledge in the head. “The design implications are clear: provide meaningful structures. Perhaps a better way is to make memory unnecessary: put the required information in the world. This is the power of the traditional graphical user interface with its old-fashioned menu structure.”
14. An excellent chapter on how designers can provide the critical information that allows people to know what to do, even when experiencing an unfamiliar device or situation. The four kinds of constraints: physical, cultural, semantic, and logical.
15. Insights on how to deal with failures. “Interruptions are a common reason for error, not helped by designs and procedures that assume full, dedicated attention yet that do not make it easy to resume operations after an interruption. And finally, perhaps the worst culprit of all, is the attitude of people toward errors.”
16. Type of errors, the difference between mistakes and errors. “Slips occur when the goal is correct, but the required actions are not done properly: the execution is flawed. Mistakes occur when the goal or plan is wrong.” “What is a designer to do? Provide as much guidance as possible to ensure that the current state of things is displayed in a coherent and easily interpreted format—ideally graphical.”
17. A key tidbit on checklists. “It is always better to have two people do checklists together as a team: one to read the instruction, the other to execute it.”
18. The key to success of resilient organizations, “A resilient organization treats safety as a core value, not a commodity that can be counted.”
19. Many great examples of sound design thinking. The Human-Centered Design Process. “There is no substitute for direct observation of and interaction with the people who will be using the product.”
20. A real-world practice that resonates, “In product development, schedule and cost provide very strong constraints, so it is up to the design team to meet these requirements while getting to an acceptable, high-quality design.”
21. Notes, references, and so much more…
1. I would have liked to have seen more examples of product failure. Perhaps, legal matters interfere with authors’ ability to share such information.
2. More illustrations would have been helpful.
3. For those of us in the field, appendices that provide more detailed information would have added value.
4. The kindle did not take advantage of its linking capability. In other words, the notes provided were not linked.
In summary, this was a very informative and enjoyable book to read. Norman succeeds in providing readers of all backgrounds with helpful insights on what constitutes good design in everyday products. A highly recommended read!
Further recommendations: “Emotional Design” by the same author, “Inspired: How to Make Products Customers Love” by Marty Cagan, “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products” by Nir Eyal, “100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People” by Susan Weinschenk, “Lean Customer Development: Building Products Your Customers Will Buy” by Cindy Alvarez, “Principles of Product Development Flow” by Donald G. Reinertsen, and “Well-Deigned” by Jon Kolko