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Learn the key ideas of the book by Don Norman

The Design of Everyday Things

How to distinguish from “good” and “bad” design

“Good design” often goes unnoticed: it is bad design that stands out and causes us problems in our daily life. How many times have we been unable to make a seemingly simple object work properly and then blamed ourselves for not being able to use it? Donald Norman uses everyday examples to reveal the mechanisms which trigger our unsatisfactory interaction with objects, and proposes Human Centred Design, which prioritises people’s needs, as a solution to this problem.

The Design of Everyday Things
Read in 18 min.
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Many useful tips to:

  • Learn to view everyday objects more attentively.
  • Distinguish between good and bad design.
  • Stop blaming ourselves for not being able to use something.
  • Apply “design thinking” as a more creative approach to problems.

The author of the book:

Don Norman is an American psychologist and engineer, who specialises in the study of design and the human cognitive process. He is the director of the Design Lab at the University of California in San Diego, co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, an IDEO fellow, and the ex-Vice President of Apple. He is on a number of advisory boards and he helps companies create enjoyable, user-centred, profitable products. He has written several books, among which “Emotional Design” and “Living with Complexity”.


Good Design vs Bad Design: why it’s not your fault when you’re not able to use certain things

Design takes care of the way things work, more specifically the interaction between people and objects. Its end goal is to guarantee that products satisfy human needs, that they are user-friendly and usable, and that hopefully, they offer the user an enjoyable experience. Having said that, bad design is much more noticeable than good design, because well designed objects that are easy to use, adapt so well to our everyday lives that they just blend in. Bad design on the other hand, makes the object’s inadequacy stand out, giving us a tonne of problems in our regular routine. We often have trouble using even seemingly simple objects, such as a basic glass door, and we blame ourselves, thinking that this only happens to us. This is actually very common, so it is time to change the way we look at things, and shake off the responsibility for our little “daily calamities”: it is actually not our “fault”, it is the object’s fault. It is not up to us to understand the illogical directives of things and technology: it is up to them, through good design, to adapt to us, and understand us. And yet, a big part of design issues derive from a complete lack of understanding of the principles of the design process required for effective interaction between man and object. This happens because a large part of the process is carried out by engineers, who are experts in technology but have a limited understanding of people.

Whereas, in reality, design suggests a fascinating interaction of technology and psychology, and thoughtful designers need to understand both. Objects, cars and technology should be designed bearing in mind that people make mistakes: designers need to make the effort to reduce this room for human error as much as possible, and maximise the user’s opportunities for noticing their mistakes and correct them. It is to be expected that, when humans interact with machines, things are not always going to go well: again, designers should anticipate these mistakes. The solution is anthropocentric, or Human Centred Design, HCD. This approach puts human need, capacity and behaviour at the centre of the design process.


The key ideas of "The Design of Everyday Things"

Good Design vs Bad Design: why it’s not your fault when you’re not able to use certain things
Visibility and Discoverability: the fundamental principles of interaction with an object
How people use things: “Gulf of Execution” and “Gulf of Evaluation”
The knowledge in our head versus constraints of the knowledge out there in the world: the tools to find out how to use an unfamiliar object
Analysis of the root cause and the “Swiss cheese model” as an approach to error
The importance of “design thinking”: because there is nothing worse than a brilliant solution to the wrong problem
Take-home message

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