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Design of Everyday Things April 19, 2010

Posted by Yong-jin Kwon in Uncategorized.
Design of Everyday Things

Design of Everyday Things

Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things is appropriately titled as the book is sprinkled with everyday examples of Norman finds to be poorly or well designed.  A clear example everyone faces almost every day is ambiguous placement of door handles signifying a push or a pull and in which direction the door opens.  Although everyone has had some troubles with these doors in public, not many users are aware that this is the fault of the designers.  These problems in everyday life that Norman describes eventually converge to a few guidelines for good design.

To get to these guidelines for good design, Norman takes the reader through an interesting journey, which is easily outlined by the seven chapters.

  1. The Psychopathology of Everyday Things
  2. The Psychology of Everyday Things
  3. Knowledge in the Head and in the World
  4. Knowing What to Do
  5. To Err Is Human
  6. The Design Challenge
  7. User-Centered Design

In the Psychopathology of Everyday Things, Norman introduces the concept of pathological design while emphasizing various design techniques such as visibility, feedback, and conceptual models.  Norman also introduces the concept of affordance, which links the functional property of the object to how it should be used. The Psychology of Everyday Things, which happens to be the old name of this book, is naturally one of the more interesting sections as it presents a simple model to understand how people generally figure things out.   Obviously techniques discussed in The Psychopathology of Everyday Things such as visibility, feedback, conceptual models etc are clear ways to overcome various obstacles to good design. In Knowledge in the Head and in the World, Norman juxtaposes how users apply knowledge from memory as opposed to the environment.  One example Norman brings up is the ability for a person to remember a deadline versus writing down a note on the desk.  Knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head are both essential to our daily life but both comes with various tradeoffs that Norman extensively explores. Knowing What to Do somewhat summarizes the previous sections and provides ways to deal with various constraints (physical, cultural etc) we place on design.

To Err Is Human is another chapter I found intriguing because it deals with the human mind and how to design based on psychology.  Norman emphasizes the important difference between a slip and a mistake and how users are affected psychologically from poor design.  In The Design Challenge, Norman shares his dissatisfaction with evolutionary design and discusses why designers go astray.  Norman also discusses the natural mapping of his design principles to computer platforms.  Finally in User-Centered Design, Norman introduces a new design philosophy via the user model, design model, and system image.   The user model determines what is understood, the design model ensures the designer is functional, learnable and usable, and finally, the system image provides a bridge between the user and the designer via documentation/user manual.

All in all, The Design of Everyday Things was an interesting read because it sets up a good basis to designing everyday objects while leaving room for increasingly complex examples.  The methods Norman discusses is clearly applicable to the simplest everyday objects to the most complex of computer systems.  Throughout the read, I did not find much room for criticism in Norman’s views especially because this book seems to align perfectly with the user centric design principle that I strictly believe in.  The most interesting takeaway from this book was the strong connection between good user centric design principles with having a keen understanding of human psychology.



1. Jon Pittman - April 22, 2010

This is Don’s classic book. One of the things I got out of it is that we build mental models of the world and things are easy or hard to use based upon how well they match our models. The designer’s task is to build a clear, explicit mental model in the user’s mind. This is matching the designer’s model to the user’s model.

The ideas in this book should be particularly helpful to team K2xM2

2. Bryan Trinh - April 25, 2010

Like Jon, I found the chapter on matching the user model and the designers model to be very enlightening and arguably one of the most important things to get right in UI design.

Although users can learn the system model through docs/manuals, one can argue that more than likely this is not the case. At least initially the users will learn the system model through the interface itself. That is what makes the affordances of the interface, physical or digital, so central to in designing for humans

3. Yong-jin Kwon - April 26, 2010

Yeah.. throughout the book I really loved how he derived the user models by exploring the user’s psychology and ways of thinking to improve design.

4. Don Norman - April 27, 2010

I am pleased you (plural) enjoyed the book. DOET was the first in a series of explorations of technology and people. It was restricted to how well people could understand and use everyday things, but it left out a lot.

My book “Emotional Design” added emotions — and most importantly pleasure — to the story. These are just as important as usability and understanding. My book “The Invisible Computer” introduced business principles and adoption rates. And my many essays in the magazine interactions covers many more aspects of design.

Some day I may revise DOET to incorporate these things. As it stands, it is an incomplete picture.

my essays are on my website at

Don Norman
don@jnd.org http://www.jnd.org

5. Yong-jin Kwon - April 28, 2010

I am interested in what other kind of human psychology could effect good design. Maybe fear? I am scared to push this button because I am afraid I will break something.

Jon Pittman - April 28, 2010

That is frequently an issue.

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