The Design of Everyday Things, written by Don Norman, is a must-read book for designers. Don is a co-founder of Nielson and Rethinking Design Education. He is a formal graduate of both engineering and psychology. Other books to his credit include Emotional Design, The design of future things, and Living with Complexity.
This book is the second edition of “The psychology of everyday things.” The first edition mainly targeted making the products “understandable” and “usable.” The second edition focused on updating the examples and including the importance of emotional design, as the technology industry has undergone tremendous change in the past 25 years.
Every day we come across countless objects such as doorknobs, chairs, switches, glasses, and household appliances whose design impacts the overall user experience of the owner. Every single device around us is a product of design. The impact of design can be good or bad. Good design can make people happy and enhance their everyday functioning, while a bad design can cause many problems and ruin their trust in the product.
Norman, through this book, acquaints the designers to the four aspects of product design:
- How do users engage with products?
- How do people do things?
- Design Thinking
- Design Business
The book consists of seven chapters. The first chapter, The psychopathology of Everyday Things, focuses on human-centred design. The author describes the human-centred design as a design philosophy that ensures that the design fulfils the needs, desires, and capabilities of the users for whom they are designing.
The chapter also deeply discusses the psychological concepts through which interaction between user and product occurs: affordances, signifiers, constraints, mapping, feedback, and conceptual model. Affordances are the possible interactions, while signifiers are noticeable signals and signs which help identify the possibilities.
Mapping plays a significant role in designing the layout of displays and controls, whereas feedback communicates the result of an action. The conceptual model provides the overall functioning of the product and, hence it is very significant.
The second chapter, The Psychology of Everyday Actions, discusses the seven-stage model of action. The seven-stage model helps in constructing user scenarios. The author also showcases the interplay between the seven stages model of action and the three-level model of processing as both models are valid and instrumental.
The third chapter, Knowledge in the head and in the World, discusses precise behaviour, how memory helps designers, Natural mapping, and how it can vary with culture.
In the fourth chapter, Knowing what to do: Constraints, Discoverability, and Feedback, the readers are deeply explained about the four classes of constraints: physical, cultural, semantic, and logical. Furthermore, it also elaborates on the forcing function and its two types: lock-in and lockout.
The fifth chapter, Human Error? No, Bad Design, talks about the two types of errors: slips, and mistakes. Slip transpire when the goal is correct but the execution is wrong, whereas mistakes occur when the goal is wrong. Slips can be further divided into action-based and memory lapse, while mistakes can be categorized into rule-based, knowledge-based, and memory lapse.
In the sixth chapter, Design Thinking, the author expresses his views on the British Council’s double diamond model and the traditional human-centred design iteration. According to the Double diamond model, the design process can be divided into four stages: “discover” and “define” for divergence and convergence phases for finding the right problem, and “develop” and “deliver” for divergence and convergence phases for finding the right solution whereas, the traditional HCD process follows a sequence of four activities, observation, ideation, prototyping, and testing.
Don also introduces Norman’s law and throws light on “real pressure” and the “challenges of design within a company.” The seventh chapter, Design in the World of Business, continues with the discussion on the “design in real-world” and targets the difference between “incremental and radical innovation.”
The purpose of Norman to write this book was to make the designers understand that “the fault lies not in ourselves but in design that ignores the needs and psychology of people.” and to “make a passionate argument for the importance of design and for not tolerating poor design.” The good news is that Don very well succeeds in explaining his points beautifully with the help of relevant examples.
The book’s best quality is its laconic approach in explaining the philosophy of human psychology concerning the design principles based on the nature of human cognition and interaction. The author didn’t want to restrict the book’s target audience to designers but to everyday people, technical experts, and non-designers. Hence he wrote it in an enjoyable and informative manner so that every individual develops an eye for good and bad design.
The first edition of the book was a bestseller for a very long period. The second edition gracefully carries its legacy forward. The book checkboxes all the qualities of a good read. The examples, principles, and ideas about design and development put forward by the author are so well explained that they can turn any non-designer into a design enthusiast.
- Don Norman (2013). The Design of Everyday Things. Revised and Expanded Edition. New York. Basic Books.
- Don Norman (2020). About Don Norman. [Last updated 21 December 2020]. Available at: About Don Norman (jnd.org) [Accessed 29 Aug 2021].