Book Review: The Design of Everyday Things

Designer, psychologist, and respected industry expert Don Norman wants to change your life and the way you see the world and his classic book The Design of Everyday Things might just do that. This book is available for reading in the Scholarly Commons and online through the University Library Catalog.

“People are flexible, versatile, and creative. Machines are rigid, precise, and relatively fixed in their operations. There is a mismatch between the two, one that can lead to enhanced capability if used properly” –  (Norman, 2013)

An update on his 1988 book, The Psychology of Everyday Things, this book continues on the themes of designing for human imperfection and imprecision with new examples. Norman makes a clear, concise, if a little repetitive at times, argument for how we can make the world a better place through better design through a combination of psychology research, jokes, anecdotes, and serious industry examples, peppered with Norman’s rules to live by from his years of design experience, such as his rule of consulting: “I never solve the problem I am asked to solve. Why such a counter-intuitive rule? Because, invariably, the problem I am asked to solve is not the real, fundamental, root problem. It is usually a symptom.” (Norman, 2013)

Undergraduate Library

This book is the reason why doors that don’t work the way we expect them to are now called “Norman doors.”  This blog post was made in loving memory of campus’s favorite “Norman doors,” the former UGL Doors, 1969-2016.

He combines psychology and technology in design principles emphasized throughout the book such as:

  • Don’t force people to rely on their memory, which is limited and easily distracted, to be able to use a machine or system
  • Try to make what the technology does make sense to people so they can figure out what it can be used for from the way it is built and what they would know about other technologies
  • Give people ways to figure out if they are using the machine for what they think they are using the machine for
  • Instead of punishing people for making errors we should find ways to figure out why such an error was possible and how to prevent the same errors from being made again

Some questions this book raises include:

  • What factors contribute to creating positive user experience and how can a designer improve products to make them work better for people?
  • To what extent are problems attributed to human error really examples of bad design?
  • How do we better design the tools that shape our lives so that they can be used by a wider variety of people despite differences in ability and culture?
  • How do we counteract a culture that rewards dangerous behavior and punishes people who make mistakes when trying to develop safer technologies? Why don’t more industries have a semi-anonymous self-reporting system for errors like the airline industry and NASA to find problems that pilots are having and improve designs and systems?
  • How do we best combine best practices for human-centered design, a circular process of observation, idea generation, prototyping, and testing, with the realities of the difficulties of product development, including Don Norman’s Law of Product Development: “The day a product development process starts, it is behind schedule and above budget” (Norman, 2013) as well as managing interdisciplinary teams, which prefer a more linear process?
  • And more!

Feeling inspired yet? Want to innovate the way things are done in your field or at least think about new ways of looking at problems? Here at Scholarly Commons we have books, and workshops, as well as consultations with the experts you need to find the tools you need to clarify and answer your research questions!

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Utilizing EverNote to Keep Your Research Organized

Sick of juggling Word documents and notebooks? Trying to find a way to keep your research organized? EverNote may be the tool you need!

EverNote is a popular program that can be accessed from the web, but also downloaded as software on your computer, or as an app on your mobile device or tablet. It is, at its core, built for note-taking and storing information. The free plan allows up to 60 MB of uploads per month (which is typically more than enough for most people), or you can buy their “Plus” package for $34.99/year, or “Premium” for $69.99/year, which give increased storage options, as well as special features.

Academically, EverNote is a great tool if you’re taking lots of notes on various sources. You can store groups of notes in “notebooks,” tag notes with key ideas, as well as upload photos or documents from elsewhere. EverNote syncs up between devices, which can be helpful if you don’t want to lug your laptop from place to place and want to use your tablet to take notes instead.

Now, I’ll walk you through the EverNote interface, and explain how I used EverNote to organize research I did on nineteenth-century cookbooks and food at the Massachusetts Historical Society last summer.

When you log into EverNote, you’ll be taken to a page that includes all of the Notes you’ve taken.

Here's my homepage.

Here’s my homepage.

Now, if you’re working on multiple projects, dealing with all of these at once can be kind of complicated. Thankfully, you have two ways to dwindle down what you’re looking for. The first is to go to your Notebooks. When you’re doing research in EverNote, it’s helpful to organize like-notes into a Notebook, so that they’re grouped together. So for my research project, I grouped my notes into a Notebook called “Boston.”

Tutorial 2 Edit

From there, I have a list of each individual Note that I took while at the MHS. You can sort the way the list appears – I just happen to have them sorted by the Date Updated. From there you can scroll around and find what you’re looking for. But if you want to narrow down your results even more, you can use the search tool to look for keywords, either in a specific notebook or in all of your notes, or you can look for tags that you add to your notes. When you press the Tags button, a list of all the tags you’ve used for your Notes pops up. In this case, I want to look at everything I tagged with “Desserts.”

Tutorial 3 Edit

Tags are only useful if you implement them in the first place, so remember to tag your research as you go along!

A list of the Notes I took that I tagged with "Desserts."

A list of the Notes I took that I tagged with “Desserts.”

As you can see, that narrowed my results down to six results, as opposed to the forty-seven notes I had in my Boston Notebook.

Now, academic notetaking is just one way to use EverNote. EverNote prides itself on having many uses – from being a place of collaboration for offices, to keeping your various to-do lists in one place. It’s up to the user to decide how they would like to use EverNote.

Now, it’s not a perfect program. If a user wants to use some of the fancier aspects of the program, some of the controls are confusing and difficult to figure out at first. Further, I have had issues in the past with the app running slow on my tablet, or crashing in the middle of a note-taking session. (Of course, the notes save automatically and frequently, but it’s frustrating when you’re ten minutes from an archive closing and you’re trying to boot your app up again.) My biggest issue with Evernote, however, is the image-taking system.

At its core, the image-taking system is not a bad idea. However, by trying to make certain images text-searchable, it can ruin the integrity of the image itself. For example, I tried to capture an image of some of the handwritten notes in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s copy of The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, and the Evernote system bleached the pages out, and made the marginalia difficult to read.

Mary Hooker Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper's Friend: or, a Guide to Domestic Economy and Comfort, 1850. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Mary Hooker Cornelius, The Young Housekeeper’s Friend: or, a Guide to Domestic Economy and Comfort, 1850. Collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society.

All-in-all, EverNote can be a useful tool for a researcher on-the-go who is trying to stay organized while syncing along various platforms, as well as serving as an organizational tool for every day life!

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Event: Critical Digital Humanities@Illinois: Digital Writing & Rhetoric Brown Bag Lunch

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities Logo.

  • Who: Visiting Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign John Gallagher will lead a discussion, hosted by the Scholarly Commons and the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities.
  • What: A brown bag workshop titled: “Who Owns the News? Question-Posing and Public Discussions in 450,000 New York Times Comments.”
  • Where: IPRH Seminar Room, Levis Faculty Center, Fourth Floor (919 West Illinois Street, Urbana, IL)
  • When: September 28, 2016 at 12:00 PM
  • Why: To foster discussion on an oftentimes divisive topic: online comments. Love them or hate them, they are an important part of fostering discussion on the Internet. Join Professor Gallagher — who researches online writing and participatory audiences — for a lively workshop on the discourse that happens online.
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Bowker discusses “The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World”

On Tuesday, September 20th, Geoffrey C. Bowker, professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, delivered the second lecture in the Design Dialogues Speakers Series at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Bowker’s talk, titled, “The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World,” discussed the ways in which Big Data is affecting not only our lives, but is reshaping what it means to be human.

Image Credit: KamiPhuc CC BY 2.0

Image Credit: KamiPhuc CC BY 2.0

Bowker discussed many examples of ways in which Big Data impacts modern life. These included:

Despite expressing some concerns about the ways in which Big Data are used, Bowker appeared by and large optimistic about the possibilities that Big Data and design education can bring into reality. Moreover, Bowker suggested that humanists and social scientists, as well as members of the STEM fields have much to offer as we improve our understanding and use of data and design.

To learn more about design at Illinois, visit the webpage for the planned Illinois Design Center, a central component of a campus wide multidisciplinary initiative. The page includes details about the center, information about related events, and opportunities to provide your own feedback.

You can also browse the reference collection in the Scholarly Commons, which includes books on design, Big Data, and many other topics.

-post co-authored with Jasmine Kirby

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Undergraduate Research Opportunity: McNair Scholars Priority Deadline 9/30!

If you are an undergraduate planning on pursuing a doctorate degree, looking for more ways to get involved in research on campus, and a member of a group underrepresented in graduate education, the TRIO McNair Scholars Program is looking for students like you!
The priority deadline is September 30 at 5 pm.
For more information about the program and the application process please check out

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HackCulture Applications Due September 25


Remember to submit your application for HackCulture: A Hackathon for the Humanities on September 25, by 11:59 PM. HackCulture is a humanities focused hackathon, where interdisciplinary teams will produce data-driven digital humanities projects, with a prize of $1000. To read more on on HackCulture, see this Commons Knowledge post, or head to the HackCulture official website. To apply, head to the HackCulture application.

Happy hacking, Illinois!

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Best Practices Resources: The Research Clinic

Mary Homans, John Staley and Edward Till, working on a model of a proposed NYA (National Youth Administration) training camp at the Landscape Architectural School. Iowa State College. Ames, Iowa

Jack Delano, “Mary Homans, John Staley and Edward Till, working on a model of a proposed NYA (National Youth Administration) training camp at the Landscape Architectural School. Iowa State College. Ames, Iowa.” Negative. May 1942. Library of Congress collection of Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black-and-White Negatives, Accessed September 6, 2016.

As a researcher, it can sometimes be difficult to draw the line between what is and is not appropriate behavior while working with those participating in your project. That’s why the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) and the Office for Human Research Protections (OHRP) created “The Research Clinic,” an interactive training video, which can help researchers learn how to protect their research participants and to avoid misconduct.

Now, it’s not quite World of Warcraft, but you choose one of four characters (my personal favorite is Megan Boyle, “a research assistant who has difficulties obtaining informed consent and following research protocols” who has a lot of student loan debt) and work through different video scenarios as that character. The goal of the program is to go back in time, and figure out what steps your character should have taken in order to have done their research ethically. The tutorial also links the viewer to optional information about aspects of the research process they need some extra information on.

“The Research Clinic” manages to mix an ethics lesson with an online game that mimics a game of whodunit with engaging humor and personality. However, in order to use it, one needs an up-to-date version of Adobe Flash Player, as well as a good Internet connection, as the videos can take time to load. “The Research Clinic” has several accessibility options, including closed captions and text voice over, as well as several keyboard shortcuts for easy movement throughout the series.

An important aspect of “The Research Clinic” is the human aspect. Each character’s story begins with some information about their life and personality, which allows you to get to know them, and to sympathize with their situation. It humanizes the researchers, and reminds the viewer that people who engage in research misconduct may not necessarily be bad people, going out of their way to tamper with evidence as they laugh manically and twist their mustache. Rather, research misconduct can occur when people are put into stressful situations and make a bad decision (or three).

The right decision may not necessarily be the easy decision, but when you’re working with human participants, taking the time to think about what you will do can make all the difference.

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Cross-Cultural Survey Guidelines July 2016 Update

Are you a researcher or survey practitioner trying to design a survey for a project that incorporates multiple countries, regions, cultures, and maybe even languages and not totally sure how to get started? Were you wondering what the best practices were for such surveys, and how these practices fall within the survey life-cycle? Well, wonder no longer. Hot off the digital presses, so hot that some aspects are still in beta, Cross-Cultural Survey Guidelines is online as a book and website with many of the chapters available as PDF files. 3MC stands for multicultural, multinational, and multiregional contexts (with a secret bonus fourth MC for multilingual contexts). This site has hundreds of pages of content and pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about creating surveys for 3MC projects.
This book is the result of the Comparative Survey Design and Implementation Guidelines Initiative, featuring contributions from “70 survey research professionals from 35 organizations worldwide” and published at the Survey Research Center at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan (“Contributors”, 2016 ). Fans of previous editions will especially enjoy the new and rewritten chapters: “Study Design and Organizational Structure,” “Study Management,” “Translation: Overview,” “Adaptation,” “Data Collection: General Considerations, Face-to-Face Surveys, and Self-Administered Surveys,” “Paradata and Other Auxiliary Data,” “Statistical Analysis,” and “Ethical Considerations” (“FAQ”, 2016). Terms, including common words that have different meanings in the survey research world, are defined throughout in (slightly annoying) pop-up captions, as well as on the “Global Glossary” pages. Sources, mostly journal articles, are cited in pop-up captions in the chapter and can also be found on the “Global References” page. On the bright side, the citations are right there in the text and you can look them up on our library journal article locator, but for all the citation manager users out there, there aren’t DOIs (or, at least in the pages I looked at). The “Global References” page does include links to some of the sources. In the PDF version, the definitions and other linked text just are blue underlined words that go nowhere. Minor complaints aside, overall it is a straightforward and navigable, free online resource for those interested in creating 3MC surveys.

And of course, for more help with all things survey, Survey Research Laboratory holds office hours, by appointment and walk-in, at Scholarly Commons on Thursdays from  2-5.

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Event: “The Data Citizen: New Ways of Being in the World” Lecture by Geoffrey C. Bowker

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Event: Bio-Humanities Interchange with Felicity Callard

The Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities Logo.

  • Who: Doctor Felicity Callard — Reader in Social Science for Medical Humanities in Department of Geography, Durham University / Director of Hubbub at Wellcome Collection
  • What: Sponsored by the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, and the IPRH-Mellon Bio-humanities Research Group, Dr. Callard is coming to Urbana to speak on her research, and how she works at the intersection of the humanities, the history of psychiatry, cultural studies, and social theory. Her current research project centers on the emergence of agoraphobia and phobias as named conditions, on early clinical pharmacological research in the United States, and behavior therapeutic interventions for anxiety and phobias.
  • Where: IPRH Lecture Hall, Levis Faculty Center, Fourth Floor (919 West Illinois Street, Urbana, IL)
  • When: 4:00 pm, September 22nd, 2016
  • Why: To learn how one scholar uses an interdisciplinary approach to her research, how an interdisciplinary path can lead to an interesting, varied career, and to learn approaches for future bio-humanities research
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