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


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.

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.

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.


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.

David Ranney

That design affects society is hardly news to designers. Many take the implications of their work seriously. But the conscious manipulation of society has severe drawbacks, not the least of which is the fact that not everyone agrees on the appropriate goals. Design, therefore, takes on political significance; indeed, design philosophies vary in important ways across political systems. In Western cultures, design has reflected the capitalistic importance of the marketplace, with an emphasis on exterior features deemed to be attractive to the purchaser. In the consumer economy taste is not the criterion in the marketing of expensive foods or drinks, usability is not the primary criterion in the marketing of home and office appliances. We are surrounded with objects of desire, not objects of use.


Have you ever stood in front of a door, or a microwave, absolutely flummoxed, because the damned thing gave you no clue whatsoever how to open it. If so (even, I venture to think, if not), you will enjoy this book. In clear, coruscating prose he exposes the miserable flaws in the design of everyday objects which conspire to make our lives less convenient, more miserable, and sometimes more dangerous.The book is not just an exposé of the appalling laziness and hostility to consumers that is commonplace among designers(not just in the software industry, which is a story unto itself - see "The Lunatics are Running the Asylum") - it is also a clarion call to action. We need not live in a world where it appears that appliances conspire to make us feel like idiots. And when they do - when you can't figure out which button to push, or whether a door opens inward or outward - remember that you are not the one at fault. It is the lazy incompetent designer of the thing which is making you miserable who is deserving of scorn and ridicule. Far too often, in a design world which favors form over function and usability, crimes against the user get rewarded with prizes and the acclaim of the design cognoscenti. People who presumably never have to struggle with the consequences of their own reckless disregard for the usability of the objects they design. This book is an outraged and eloquent call for change.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.


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!


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.

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!

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