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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.