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


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!

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though most of the concepts described in the book are timeless, especially the parts about computer systems felt outdated.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.

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!


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.


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.


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:

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.


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.

Eduardo Rocha

This book is amazing. You'll never look at another door or faucet in the sameway.If you take anything from this book, it is these 7 principles of making a difficult design task an easy one.1. Use both knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head.2. Simplify the structure of tasks.3. Make things visible: bridge the gulfs of Execution and Evaluation.4. Get the mappings right.5. Exploit the power of constraints, both natural and artificial.6. Design for error.7. When all else fails, standardize.Altough, the reason for the 4 star reviews, is that the book is a bit outdated. Not the design principles, even after 20 year since the book was published, some things are poorly designed. But the book use examples like telephones and the future of publishing, like Hyperlinks(!).


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.

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.

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!

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!

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