The Design of Everyday Things

ISBN: 0465067107
ISBN 13: 9780465067107
By: Donald A. Norman

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About this book

Anyone who designs anything to be used by humans -- from physical objects to computer programs to conceptual tools -- must read this book, and it is an equally tremendous read for anyone who has to use anything created by another human. It could forever change how you experience and interact with your physical surroundings, open your eyes to the perversity of bad design and the desirability of good design, and raise your expectations about how things should be designed.B & W photographs and illustrations throughout.

Reader's Thoughts

Norain MT

Here was one of those few books that not only made me go "Whoa!" but also made me go away, many times throughout reading it, to do some pondering. Which, I believed, was one of the ultimate purposes of writing a book since as Descartes put it, thinking was the prove that I as a human being existed. So the book had proven that I existed, thank you very much.The book started with some scenarios about faulty designs that embarrassed the user. Remember the time when you went to a toilet and broke into cold sweat because you could not find the flush button? Or the time when you struggled to open the door by pulling it open only to be told that you should push it? Or the time when you simply could not turn that cutting-edge technology TV or microwave? Users usually blamed themselves for these kind of 'mistake', even downgrading themselves as stupid for unable to do things that others could. While it was true that sometimes it was the users' fault a machine did not work, most of the time the fault lay more in the design of the product.I had many future architect friends and it was an enlightening experience to share this book, or at least the idea of it since I could not lend them my ebook, with them. The problem with design whether in smaller everyday object or a building was the designers often put aesthetic value over practicality. Thus we had products with almost invisible buttons or as few of them as there could be, each of which controlling multitude of functions. This only confused new users and maybe even caused competent ones to make mistakes if they should use these products in times of emergency.Don Norman proposed a lot of ways to improve a design. He was not opposed to a design being beautiful and did not say a car radio with countless buttons to provide separate functions were necessarily better than the one with one a couple of buttons. He suggested that designers should find a balance between them. And in this book, it was not design as an objective subject that was only considered, but also the psychology of humans and the way our minds work. For example Don argued that the more tasks a man handled at once, the more likely he made a mistake. Not to mention the Short Term Memory was well, short term. So when designing a product, designer must consider the possibility of mistakes and do something to prevent it from happening.Don also put a stress on the mapping the functionality of a product. And it was important that users could see the result of his action, such as when he pushed a button he could see the light turned on or heard a beep. Oftentimes a designer's mapping did not match that of the users. So it was really no surprise there were people who scratched his head five times so he could open his car window while actually it was him accidentally pressing his elbow to the button that caused it to open. Some people were strange like that but human brains worked with the logic that B happened when A was triggered so A must have caused B, so it was not entirely illogical (syllogism was it?). It was designers' job to accommodate this. Unfortunately as my architecture friends admitted, their lecturers openly declared that they wanted things to be beautiful, functional be damned. No wonder why an architecture's dream was an engineer's nightmare, but I digress.The edition I read was from 2002 but this book was originally published in 1988. All of the examples given and the pictures were out of date technology-wise but amazingly, Don wrote it so clearly that even if you never saw one of those old bulky telephones, you could understand his point easily. This book would never go out of date. After all it was not just about design but also about human psychology. The only complain I had was because the book was originally titled The Psychology of Everyday Things, it was referred in the book as POET. By the time I finished it I had no idea what POET actually meant. But it could mostly be me since I read this book in a very long duration and my memory was never prefect.At the house I am currently renting, we have this toilet which apparently is from an excellent brand. From the outside it does look excellent. But it has a big problem. Every time you flush it, you need to press the button for more than five seconds or water will continue to flow. It took us some times to figure this out and when we did, some of us often forgot the 'rule'. Not to mention that our guests do not know about it (which is annoying to the one whose room near the toilet who have to keep re-flushing the toilet i.e, me) so we have to put a notice telling people to hold down the button for at least five seconds. I can count on one hand how many bother to read that notice and yes, we have repeat offenders. So here is just one example of how a faulty design can make life a nuisance, if not hard. I might not think about it that way if I did not read this book, but Don Norman made me go around evaluating the designs of things around me. And goodness, the many beautiful but stupid designs there are!


For those that expect people to distill design principles into short bullet points, they are missing the point. Great design is about being exhaustive in the multitude of ways every day people will use, abuse, and misuse objects. What the author does fantastically well is provide a broad range of 'models' for thinking about a user and how they might think. Another thing the author does well is show you why good design really matters, and is different from the 'artistic' design that wins awards. Finally, he gives you very practical advice on how to use models, constraints, affordances, and other tools to design a better product. All of this in a package that is entertaining, even if some of the examples appear stretched and outdated.Other books, like 4 steps to the epiphany and running lean, have taken these principles to their logical extension: go out and get in front of users if you want to design. Similarly, IDEO and other design consultancies have taken this advice to heart. So while there are ways to 'hack' your way through the design principles you get in the book, from an understanding perspective the book really forces you to spend some time considering the challenges of design. This fact, I believe, is one of its greatest virtues. Most likely, if you've spent some time creating something, you will not walk away with your mind blow. Conversely, if you haven't, there will be a lot of 'aha' moments. Nonetheless for both groups I hope I've explained there's a lot to like here. If design is of interest, this is a great starting point.

Graham Herrli

This book has an important message: don't compromise usability for aesthetics' sake.The message often gets lost along the way as Norman goes on tangents ranting about all the things that are bad about the design industry, all the many ways in products can be made hard to use. The message may be of consequence, but the tone is so grouchy and depressing that it detracts from the expression of this message. The book comes across not so much as a guide of how to design things well as a rant about all the things that can go wrong with design. I like that Norman uses concrete examples, but most of the examples are done to critique bad design. He carefully categorizes various slips and mistakes, but it would be nice if he could have provided several more examples of good design. He has an unusual technique of writing all his examples in italics. I'm still not sure whether I like the effect of this: on the one hand it helps to chunk up the text and to divide the abstract from the concrete; on the other it feels a bit hard on the eyes to read full pages of italicized text.In the introduction, Norman says that he intentionally uses low-tech devices to show that the principles he's writing about can be applied to anything, including future technologies, but he ruins the effect of this attempt at timelessness when he spends a several pages toward the end of the book writing about the oh-so-modern Xerox Star, this new-fangled idea called hypertext, and his dreams of carrying an electronic calendar notebook in his pocket some day.I've wavered between giving this book four stars and three. I'll give it three because of its negative tone.


Nota per il futuro: ricordarsi di guardare la data di pubblicazione prima di farsi tentare da un saggio con titolo accattivante. Questo interessante excursus sulla non funzionalità del design è del 1988 e cita l'Apple Lisa come esempio di buona progettazione: vorrei sentire il parere dell'autore una volta messogli in mano un iPhone.Esempi datati a parte rimane corretto il suo ragionamento: perché oggetti di uso quotidiano devono essere complicati? Perché si predilige l'estetica alla funzionalità? Il dottor Norman presenta interessanti aspetti del ragionamento umano in funzione ad atti pratici come lavarsi le mani o aprire una porta, spiega come certi preconcetti si mettano tra noi e la cosa che vogliamo utilizzare e spiega, sopratutto a progettisti, designer ed ingegneri, come interagire con l'utente finale. O, perlomeno, come si dovrebbe interagire. Interessante, ma grazie al cielo molti suo consigli sono stati adottati in questi 20 anni e i suoi ragionamenti suonano a volte obsoleti.


(4.0) Some good stuff in here, though it's certainly datedI'll be looking up some of his other books to see if he's as good at predicting and suggesting product improvements as he was back then.I think he makes concrete some really common sense ways to approach and analyze designs of products that humans use. It's certainly entertaining to point out ridiculous products, interfaces etc., but that's kind of 'negative design': what not to do. That doesn't actually help you do it right. Fortunately, he does spend a fair amount of time on how to do it right. So some good stuff to summarize:* Make the controls/interactive elements visible: they won't used if they're not noticed* Use cultural, intuitive clues to suggest the function of elements...e.g. choose materials, shapes, colors appropriately* Try to make the interactive elements map to the functions they perform, particularly easy if there is some spatial component to what is controlled, arrange the elements in the same arrangement as their actions* Think of the steps that will occur when a user interacts with a product: -- user forms a goal -- user translates the goal into smaller, more concrete 'intentions' -- user enacts the intention as best he can -- the system responds -- the user tries to interpret the response -- 'bugs' can occur anywhere in this chain, identifying the source can help identify the solution* Make sure there's feedback when user does something. If the product's state has changed, make sure user can tell. Readable displays can be helpful here* Users will make mistakes. Expect them and make them reversible, low impact* If you need instructions for new user to operate, you're probably doing it wrong* Try to use constraints to limit the wrong actions user can take -- e.g. 3.5" floppy disks can only be inserted one way into drive (though they look square and top not much different from bottom) -- cultural constraints can be used as well as physical constraints* as last resort, turn to arbitrary standards (so even if something not intuitive, user only has to learn once and can apply to all similar devices) -- e.g. QWERTY keyboard* how to use technology best to improve products/processes: -- simplify tasks, but leave them largely the same (don't automate away key steps that users will forget occur and can't troubleshoot when something's wrong) -- make things visible that weren't visible before so state is easier to track -- design for error, don't blame "human error" when unintuitive/broken interface leads to disaster (e.g. three mile island)So I think a few of these can be explicit steps to take when evaluating a design:* are the relevant features visible? is feedback visible?* is it clear what the mapping is from interface to resulting actions?* when user interacts with each control, is there appropriate feedback?* can user identify when he's made an error? can he undo the error? are the 'human errors' ever catastrophic?* are there constraints you can apply to reduce possibility of error?He also made some cool predictions/product requests, which makes me want to read some of his more recent stuff:* the windows/macintosh user interface would take off* calendar/reminder book would be electronic and fit in your pocket (but didn't think they'd BE the phone...talked about connecting the calendar to the phone...but well on his way to asking for the smartphone)* how big hypertext would get, mostly in the context of books/media...not sure he really thought of the Web as the logical extension though* it also seems that his line of thinking was adopted into the types of user testing that i'm familiar with...let naive users play with the product with no guidance and see what sense they make of it. what mistakes do they make? when were they surprised by how the product behaved? why?Only negative bits were that there was some material in the middle about theory of mind, memory, psychology of errors etc. that I didn't think was all that relevant. Interesting, perhaps, but a little out of place.


This is a great book, and should be highly recommended for engineers in particular. Product teams are almost always, to some extent, creating products for themselves. They are solving problems that they have identified in a manner that makes sense to them. When these products are intended to be used by or sold to others, a disconnect often arises.It would serve the product team well to look at problems from their users' perspective. To put aside their inherently greater technical knowledge of the problem and view it as an outsider. To understand why less sophisticated users don't get it, not to criticize their lack of sophistication.This process could be called design, I suppose, but maybe "open-minded engineering" puts a finer point on it.The book could be improved with a more detailed look at cost-benefit analysis in design issues. We can critique designs on their own merits, but ignoring cost factors won't lead to very constructive insights in the real world.

Bryan Alexander

A splendid book that I finally got around to reading, The Design of Everyday Things walks us through exactly what the title promises. Norman explores phones, doors, car keys, VCRs, water faucets, and signage, looking for principles that show how these work well or poorly.Despite the author being a psychologist, the books is beautifully bereft of jargon. It reads like Asimov's nonfiction: accessible, brisk, pedagogically attuned, and often witty.One nice assumption: that the user (you) is usually right. When we run into problems with things, it's often because of poor design.As someone who grows more obsessed with bad signage every year, I found this a very pleasant read.Recommended for anyone working with design, with technology, with spaces. And fans of Edward Tufte.


The book introduces basic psychological concepts from areas such as cognitive psychology and ties them into usability and design.Even though the book feels a bit outdated (they talk about rotary phones and old sewing machines), all the principles covered in the book still apply today.Even though the book was written with things in mind that most of us won't necessarily use anymore (such as the problem of threading a projector), the principles are still useful to know when designing modern-day things from cell phones to websites.I would definitely suggest this book to designers, computer scientists, engineers and anyone who might create something for others to use.

Earl Carlson

There are many reviews elsewhere calling this book outdated. That is outlandish as the principals still apply, perhaps with even more force than they did when this book was originally written.Norman's book should be necessary reading for any student in any design based field. I'm a bit ashamed it took me so long to pick it up. I'm glad I finally did, as I was still able to pick up some useful thoughts and ideas from the book.Without spoiling anything, one big idea that is important is that user errors shouldn't happen. Any time there is a user error, it is most likely a design error.Good stuff there.


A classic for a reason. The examples are dated, but if you still remember rotary dial telephones (maybe over 30 years of age?) you'll be fine with them. Since Norman more or less predicts iPhones and iPads in this book, I'd love to read an update chapter from him in the next edition. The principles are still accurate and useful, and Norman makes a solid case for why my inability to get through doorways safely is actually the fault of the manufacturers. People using products are busy, they have their mind on other things, and they can't read the mind of the designer. Therefore, if you're in any way responsible for making a product for other people to use, it's worth your while to take a look at how to embed the knowledge of how to use it within the object itself. Norman covers some of the techniques for this, but you can get that in many other user-experience and design books with more up-to-date examples. What I found most valuable was his way of taking a fresh look at everyday objects, really observing what happens when we use them and wanting to find a way to smooth that path. In future I'll be trying to do the same.


After reading this you will never look at any man-made object the same. You will question everything from doors to tea kettles to the most sophisticated computer program. The next time you fumble with an answering machine, web page, or light switch you will think back to the lessons from this book. It is almost liberating once you can see beyond the design of everyday things.I highly recommend this book for anyone. You absolutely must read it if you will ever be in a position to create something (i.e. software, a chair, a cardboard box). If you don't, I will curse your name every time I am forced to use your product!

Nick Black

Jeff Garzik gave me a copy of this back when he was building the Linux network stack in Home Park; I'd seen it praised by a few other people by that time as well (via the GT newsgroups, most likely). I was underwhelmed -- there were a few good case analyses (the oven UI I recall being particularly effective), but very little usable, general principles came out of the read. I went back in 2006, thinking I'd perhaps missed something, but didn't find much more. then again, i'm probably not the target audience. this book seems to receive much play in computer science programs, but it's really much more of an industrial design text; its prevalence in CS programs evidences IMHO the sad state of HCI textbooks.I'm still eagerly waiting for a single textbook which unifies theory and practice of effective, attractive UI design. Instead, we seem to have the "GUI metrics" crowd, fetishists assuming the existence of some spiritus mundi, just waiting for the right Gaussian to be fitted (thus giving rise to twin abominations, MacOSX and GNOME3); meanwhile the "design" crown speaks in riddles, playing a game where men throw ducks at baloons, and nothing is as it seems...but this is why, I suppose, I only write backends and libraries.

Greg Mathews

Awesome book that introduces the fundamental aspects of design. Even though the book was written over 20 years ago the concepts are easily applied to web design and more modern technological design. Awesome book!


Orsù, imbranati di tutto il mondo rianimateviUna volta sfrondato dalla reiterazione sfiancante alla È facile smettere di fumare se sai come farlo il messaggio profetico emerge in tutta la sua evidenza.Non siamo noi ad essere cerebrolesi, ma è il progettista ad essere diversamente scadente. Detto questo, mi accingo a progettare una ciotola a sezioni basculanti con timer incorporato e pulsanti a idrogetto per il mio cane, in modo che anch’esso (si noti il lieve sadismo in crescendo che culmina in un anch’esso da tenore), si convinca di quanto bello è, il caro e vecchio design della ciotola rossa/acqua, ciotola blu/ cibo.


Couldn't get in to it. Maybe I'll try again at a different time. On a side note, I found it odd that a book about user-centered design had line-broken right-justified headings and baffling use of italics.

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