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

Kipriadi prawira

A big part of what makes The Design of Everyday Things so enjoyable are the descriptions of flawed designs that Norman peppers throughout the book. These case studies serve to illustrate both how difficult it is to design something well, n how essential good design is to our lives. Norman draws on his own (often humorous) experiences with poorly designed objects, as well as anecdotes from colleagues n friends, n paints an all-too-familiar picture of design gone awry. If you’ve ever struggled to program a VCR, pulled a door handle when you were supposed to push, or been mystified by the taps in a public restroom, then you’ll be sure to relate to these encounters with bad design. Norman uses the book’s examples of substandard design as a springboard for examining the factors that frequently derail the design process, n he proposes that matters can be improved when designers adopt a user-centered design philosophy n focus on the needs of the user.While The Design of Everyday Things deals mostly with the design of physical objects, its principles are equally applicable to the design of websites n other interactive systems.good!

Erika RS

The Design of Everyday Things is a book that should be read by anyone who wants to design something usable. This book is famous for its descriptions of incomprehensible doors and wretchedly confusing light switches. Norman points out what could be done to make these seemingly simple things be truly simple. He does not pretend design is easy; he discusses in depth the competing factors such as usability, cost, aesthetics, and features that a designer has to handle. Although the book does not deal extensively with computer interfaces, the discussions are still relevant to those of us designing computer systems. Read it!


Didn't actually finish the book because I felt it was starting to make me overly critical of everyday things. Most of the problems identified in this book are first world problems, such as how a bathroom could be designed better. Well, some people have holes in the ground with no proper plumbing! And others are trying to design "user-friendly" toilets. The last time I saw someone not know how to use a toilet, he was 2 years old. Honestly, the marginal utility from a better designed toilet or washer is almost negligible to my happiness. On the other hand, having a washer or toilet at all is a huge gift that we shouldn't take for granted. I still gave this book three stars, because it seems to be the holy grail book for people starting out in user experience design. You should still read it -- just so you're in the know when people in the industry refer to it.


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.


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.


By now, Donald Norman's Design of Everyday Things is a classic text on what we have learned to call user-friendly design. Twenty-first century readers will no doubt find it dated (see references to"computer mail"), but it is truly a must-read none the less. By exploring fundamental design principles through human interactions with everyday things -- doors, telephones, light and power switches, even cars -- Norman demolishes the notion of "user error" and lays down a roadmap for achieving truly user-centered design. Long before I ever knew of this book, I already had a sense of how the way a product, an object, or a system is designed can have an impact on how well or badly people use it, or how much they enjoy or avoid using it. I am constantly redesigning things in my head: bad design drives me batty, and I have been known to kvetch to anyone in earshot, you know, if they just put this here instead..., or something to that effect. (In fact, I complain about this sort of thing so often, my partner has picked it up from me -- now, when something doesn't work right, he'll just throw a glance my way and say, "Bad design!") Good design, on the other hand, always grabs my attention. By and large, though, my responses were emotional. Reading this book not only confirmed my impulses, but more importantly, helped me understand just why bad design is annoying and even dangerous. In lucid, easy to follow prose, Norman breaks down the elements of functional design into crucial component parts: Good design is not good by accident; rather, design is good when a few key principles are honored. By contrast, when something is hard to operate, look for a violation of one or more of these principles. And, significantly, much of what has historically been attributed to "user error" is really a problem of bad design. When this book was first published in 1998, it was titled The Psychology of Everyday Things. In the introduction to the 2002 edition, Norman explains that the "Psychology" in the title threw readers and booksellers off (it was often filed in the "psychology" section of bookstores, rather than with design books), and he re-titled it to better reflect its focus on design. However, it bears mentioning that psychology is not irrelevant here. A unifying theme in the principles of good, user-focused design is that they take into account the psychology of the human beings who will use the objects in question. Norman demonstrates the human tendency to create one's own explanations for processes and purposes that are unclear, and that often, people come up with the wrong explanation. Following the internal logic of a wrong explanation, or, to put it more academically, operating under a misguided conceptual model, can cause people to have trouble with what ought to be a simple, everyday object. In describing how people undertake any action, Norman outlines several stages, divided into two basic phases: execution and evaluation. We start with an idea in our head of an outcome we want, and how to make it happen. In the execution phase, we do the things we understand we need to do to create that outcome. In the evaluation stage, we consider whatever feedback that is available to us to determine whether we've successfully created the outcome. Good design invisibly addresses all the stages within those two phases. The key principles to observe include visibility (the user should be able to tell by looking what a thing is doing at any particular moment, and what options there are), a clear conceptual model (the user's idea of how a thing works actually is how the thing works), intuitive mapping (controls are consonant with the actions they perform -- for example, something that should be pushed should not have a handle that looks like it should be grasped), and feedback (the user should be able to tell clearly and quickly what effect any action they've taken has had). Obviously, the book explores all these points in far more detail, and it is chock full of commonplace examples and anecdotes to illustrate the points. And once you start looking, you'll find that examples abound in everyday life. Plugs that are oddly shaped so that they can only be inserted one way (or that are symmetrical, so they can be inserted either way without damage) -- these are examples of physical constraints that demand no thought on the part of the user to be used correctly. The dial on gas stove that must be pushed in and turned simultaneously to light the the burner is a forcing function that prevents the gas from being turned on inadvertently. A whistling teakettle is using sound for visibility: you know that you've achieved your desired outcome -- the water has boiled -- without looking, in fact, you know from across the room.The Design of Everyday Things is a excellent read that will continue to stand the test of time. I would recommend it not just for designers of objects and programmers of software and websites, but for anyone who spends any part of their time creating things, even something as simple as an event calendar or a filing system, that other people will have to use. Frankly, I think it's worthwhile reading for anyone who's called themselves inept for continually making mistakes using any kind of technology. Most times, it's not you, it's the design.As a final comment on my review, I'll share a real world story of the kind of problems good design can solve. The first time I remember thinking consciously about design and safety was when I saw a magazine article about an innovative new design for prescription medicine bottles. A design grad student embarking on her Master's project was motivated by an incident when her grandmother accidentally mistook her husband's medication for her own. Fortunately, the grandmother suffered no serious effects, but it led the design student, Deborah Adler, to seriously reconsider the problems inherent in the design of the standard prescription bottle. As her thesis project, Adler redesigned it. Her new prescription bottle was flat-sided instead of round, so no more having to twist it around to read all the instructions on the label. The caps of the bottles would be color-coded with a different bright color ring for every person in a household, to make it a lot harder to mistake someone else's medicine for your own. The flat-sided design created more space for print on the label, so that the drug name and instructions could be printed more readably. Adler's student project was a runaway success. It was adopted by the Target chain as their "Clear Rx" prescription bottle, and won design awards. Check out the photo essay on Adler's website and see if you don't agree:


This book was written in 1988 and it shows. Most of the concepts and examples shown in the book are either outdated (wheel phones, VCRs, Answering machines etc.) or already corrected (gas stove knobs etc.) We can realize that this book should have made a HUGE impact when it was released. However, it brings in yawn to read in 2012. Websites (and GNOME project) have taught me a lot about usability and today's usability needs have grown a lot compared to the time this book was written.The author is a genius. This book probably was the first to address issues relating to Usability. He has predicted the success of iPads and tablet devices and smartphones then itself. It is kind of fascinating to read that he could think so ahead of his time. However, the book does not offer much value for someone reading today.

Ondřej Sýkora

An interesting discussion of how people approach and use things around them and how to design these things to be more usable. The main points of the book can be summarized as:1. Make things visible - signal to the user what the possible actions are, be explicit about the outcome of these actions, and let the user perceive the current state of the system,2. Make the mapping between the controls and the controlled objects as explicit and natural as possible, and3. Make it difficult to make errors by constraining the possible actions to the correct ones.The book is full of examples and stories from everyday life that show designs that are good or bad, and why they are good or bad. Even though this is not a simple topic, the writing is very clear and easy to follow.Even though most of the concepts described in the book are timeless, especially the parts about computer systems felt outdated. The author mentions devices like mobile phones or PDA's that "are possible and coming", but the truth now is that these devices are already here. They solve lots of problems, but bring many new ones and the fact is that we need a book like this focused on computer systems and mobile devices more than ever.In the end, this is definitely a very good and useful book, but I've seen it being mentioned as the essential literature for designers and UI/UX people in general, that I've expected something more. And perhaps, it came ahead of time, but that's one more reason for an update.

Nelson Zagalo

This "Revised and Expanded Edition" is a must read for everyone working in Interaction Design. If you read the previous edition, put it aside, and use this one instead. This is not a simple update of the book, it was completely revised and adapted to a view of the world that takes into account User Experience.If the first edition was an important addition to the discussion of interface design, this Revised and Expanded Edition completed the book with in depth knowledge of the last 20 years on digital interfaces and the last 10 years on human emotion and cognition, transforming the book in an obligatory read for any academic and practitioner.


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.


(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.


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!

Michael Economy

Lots of good stuff, but a lot of fluff too. Formatting is bizarre. Similar to the visual display of quantative information, this book is largely a rant. Theres a lot of good points, but what i really took away from this book is very touchy/feely, and hard to apply to every day design.How do I design things better? Well, I need to kinda design the same way i designed before, but do everything better.


Excellent piece of non-fiction. This book is a prescribed textbook for a course on computer interface design that I'm doing. Once I really started reading it, I almost couldn't put it down - it was so interesting that it almost read like fiction - none of the dry dust usually found in conventional textbooks. Very well and humorously presented, and a must for engineers, designers, manufacturers and inventors everywhere!

Kater Cheek

I got this as an audiobook, based on the fact that it falls within my usual taste for non fiction and because it's been referred to by many other books. In many ways, this is a classic book that inspired many people to think more seriously about design. At least, that's my impression, garnered from the unreasonably long introduction in which the author talks about how great and important his book is.Confession time: I didn't finish the book. I got down to about the last hour and ten minutes and finally had enough. This book is boring. I spent most of my time listening to it trying to figure out why it was so boring. I like design. I like sociology. I like pop science. I like non-fiction. Why did this book make me drift off and not know what he'd said for ten to twenty minute chunks? I'm not exactly sure, but I've got some ideas.First of all, the book references illustrations. Yes. In an audiobook. I went to my audible account to delete it, and saw that the pdf of the illustrations had thoughtfully been included in the download. So I looked at the illustrations, but they still weren't that great. They clarified some things that I didn't understand, but they didn't add a tremendous amount to the understanding of the text. If the book had been littered with illustrations, with "here's good" next to "here's bad", it might have helped, but then it wouldn't have been a good audiobook.Secondly, the book had too much abstract descriptions and made-up words.Remember when you were in elementary school and they'd have a textbook that talked about, say, the natural resources of a country, and they'd have vocabulary words in bold that you had to remember for the test? But they were artificial, like "grasslands" meant something different from "savanna" which was different from "prairie" This book kinda did that, at least in the first chapters, like he was structuring this as a textbook to teach you principles of good design. His principles sort of made sense, but they had too few examples to elucidate them, and what anecdotes and examples he included often were completely off-topic.The middle to second half of the book got especially off-topic, degenerating at times into a rant about how hard VCRs are to program and DOS computers are to use. Which brings me to my third point: this book is really dated. In some ways it's cool; he describes a smart phone decades before one existed. In other ways, it's not really relevant. He talks about frustrating faucets, for example, he derides motion-detecting faucets as difficult to use because they aren't obvious. Most people these days use motion-detecting faucets just fine. He talks about how awful computers are, but he's talking about a computer that anyone under the age of 25 has never seen. Even if it weren't for the overly-abstract, poorly described principles he wants people to learn from, the age of his observations makes this book not relevant.I don't recommend this book. It's an interesting topic, but this book is poorly written and too dated to be useful.

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