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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