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The Design of Everyday Things

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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.

257 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1988

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About the author

Donald A. Norman

51 books1,332 followers
Donald Arthur Norman is a professor emeritus of cognitive science at the University of California, San Diego and a Professor of Computer Science at Northwestern University, where he also co-directs the dual degree MBA + Engineering degree program between the Kellogg school and Northwestern Engineering. Norman is on numerous company advisory boards, including the editorial board of Encyclopædia Britannica. He currently splits his time between consulting, teaching, and writing. He co-founded the Nielsen Norman Group, a consulting group on matters of usability, which also includes Jakob Nielsen and Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini.

Many of Norman's books deal mostly with usability or with cognitive psychology. He loves products which are enjoyable to use, a feature which he attributes to putting together emotion and design, or heart and mind.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 3,011 reviews
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
805 reviews3,852 followers
September 6, 2020
A praising of human creativity and problem-solving skills, shown on so normal and average examples one could never imagine that their history is so suspenseful.

Gosh, I didn´t know that there was such a huge bunch of other disciplines involved in the creation of everyday objects and how much scientific effort is made to pimp every single aspect until perfection.

Norman shows many examples of what works why, how even simple and banal seeming objects are filled with deep thoughts about each possible aspect and how products evolve. It amazed me that we, because of perfect product design, intuitively know how to use products and how quickly we learn when extra functions are added due to the evolution of tech. I hardly say that something changed my view of the world, but just as after enlightenment to mindful product praising, I tend to look at any design under this aspect now.

That usability and a more subtle way of manipulation by combining body and soul, hand and eye, joy and practicability, have long been ignored in just advertising and marketing products with quite simple jingles and without fusing the message, meaning and the look to ultimate seductiveness is stunning. To perfect how first our allegedly free, conscious minds can be mesmerized to buy a product that is so perfect, handy and good looking at the same time. Why can´t they start designing humans like that?

Reverse engineering why something seems so appealing is interesting for self-reflection, to find out what aspect of one's personality made one so vulnerable for exactly this product and how they could get so deep inside one's mind.

It will be interesting to see what Big Data and AI will make out of the field, I could easily imagine an individualization down to one single customer and her/his special wishes. Too far fetched? Until now, just simple market research, psychology, ergonomics, etc., made a pretty astonishing shopping experience possible and the key element was to know the wishes of all groups of customers. Now, with the collection of soon billions of profiles given in the fictional hands of an AI with 3D printing, nanotech, etc., everyone will be able to lose her/himself in the ultimate, senseless consumerism. But at least a unique one.

A wiki walk can be as refreshing to the mind as a walk through nature in this completely overrated real life outside books:
Profile Image for David.
89 reviews13 followers
March 21, 2008
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!
Profile Image for Philip Mcallister.
1 review7 followers
January 13, 2013
For a book that a lot of people rave about as being a 'bible of usability', I have to say it was one of the worst written and designed books I have ever been unfortunate enough to read.
Profile Image for Jmay.
591 reviews10 followers
January 29, 2015
Too general to be valuable. Too many sentences like this: "Each discipline has a different perspective of the relative importance of the many factors that make up a product."
Profile Image for Rod Hilton.
150 reviews3,125 followers
July 24, 2017
Whenever programmers ask other programmers for book suggestions, there's always some smartass that says something like "The Art of War" because of blah blah blah about corporate politics. Hoo boy you're clever, you suggested a non-programming book, way to not play by the rules. You really march to the beat of your own drum there, slick.

Similarly, I constantly see "The Design of Everyday Things" suggested in these kinds of conversations. I think it's supposed to give engineers great insights into design and how humans interact with objects around them. This is supposed to change our outlook for the software we build for people.

Well, I don't think it did that at all. Really, the only thing to take away in that regard is "think about how people use your software". In other words, I think a great many UX-centered books are vastly superior in this regard.

That's not to say this book is bad. In fact, I imagine there are people reading my review right now thinking "who gives a shit that this guy is a software engineer?" Indeed, this book is great. Very enjoyable, and very informative. It made me think about every day objects I've never even given a second thought to. There's an entire section on sink faucets that blew my mind. But ultimately, the book is really about exactly what the title says it is, the design of everyday things and objects. There's some hinting at a greater, broader meaning than this, but it never comes to much.

Definitely a great read, worth it for sure, but don't buy into the "everyone who makes software should read this book" hype.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
May 15, 2020
This took me FOREVER to read - but it isn't the book's fault. It was me just picking it up at odd moments & it giving me a lot to think about each time. I don't design every day things, so had absolutely no need to read this book, but found it extremely interesting. If you have any part in designing anything, you MUST read this book.

Norman points out the obvious - things I took for granted - & made me think about them in an entirely new light. He breaks down the simplest devices into their basic functions & features, then rebuilds them in a way that is both obvious & yet entirely new. He then points out places where the design elements are good & bad. He gets into the basic aspects of design that I never thought about such as aligning the number of controls with the number of functions. Best of all, he lays all of this out in an interesting manner with common examples as he delves deeper into the problems & solutions.

When you walk up to a door, how do you know how to deal with it? I never thought about it, just used it. Norman points out the clues I use, such as where the handles & hinges are located, as well as the conventions, such as pushing to go out of a commercial door, that I just KNOW & intuitively use. But what happens when designers fiddle around to make look pretty? Can anyone screw up something as mundane & venerable as a door? Unfortunately, yes indeedy!

He relates a funny story about getting stuck briefly in the foyer of a commercial building because of the 'modern' design of the doors. Hidden hinges, lots of glass, & handles that stretched across the entire center of the door gave no clue as to which way they opened. Couple that with one set of doors opening in the opposite direction from the others & a simple task - walking into a building without much thought (actually while thinking of other things, like the upcoming meeting) - became an irritating puzzle. Not a big deal? Actually, it is.

Norman pulls out some truly horrific numbers to make a great point on how important intuitive design is. The average person has something like 30,000 different instruction sets to remember on a regular basis. If each one of these took just a minute to remember, you'd spend several months learning them, assuming a 40 hour week devoted to the task! That we've absorbed these instructions & conventions over decades & are facing an increasing number of them on a daily basis makes it particularly irritating when they get redesigned into a problem.

Note: This book was published in the late 80's. While there are some desktop computing examples given, this book is pre-Internet. Think of how much additional information is required in the wake of that. (Think browsers, email, scams, viruses, ....)

While some of the examples are a bit dated, such as VCR's, they're not terrible. The multifunctional switches, confusing menus, & seemingly random options packed into those machines have carried over into their descendents in spades. Other examples, such as phone systems & stoves, are still so on target that it's absolutely infuriating. OK, phone systems are complicated, extremely proprietary & full of more options than ever, but do they HAVE to be so hard to use? I don't think so.

I know damn well that designers could do a much better job of laying out the controls for something as simple as a stove. They've had over a century & it's still a complete PITA to figure out which knob operates which burner. I can't walk up to any stove & put my hand on the correct knob. I have to read, sometimes even puzzle out symbols to figure out which is which. Even on my own simple stove, which we've had 5 years, I wind up reading to figure out the controls. OK, Marg usually cooks, but that's just STUPID design - one more minor irritation in a world filled with them, but one that could so easily be rectified with just a bit of thought!!! It's just infuriating.

While I was reading this book, a couple of examples of its relevance slapped me in the face.
- Steve Jobs died. Why was he so successful? Many people say that he was an inventor. WRONG. He rarely came up with anything truly new. His forte was in timing & design. Microsoft had a tablet for years before the iPad but their offering never made it. Why? Because the hardware couldn't support the overall expected functionality properly AND the user interface wasn't nearly as well designed as the iPad. Microsoft tried too early, designed it poorly, & FAILED themselves right out of the market.
- Amazon took the ebook market by storm. The Kindle wasn't the first ereader & it isn't really all that great hardware-wise, but it has a great interface that leverages a wonderful support system - all good design. It does one thing & does it really well.

Long review, but design is one of the most misunderstood & important concepts of our lives. I was completely shocked by my own ignorance about it. I still don't claim to be any expert, but it sure made me see the world in a different way.

Update 13May2019 Here's a new article by Norman. "I wrote the book on user-friendly design. What I see today horrifies me" with a subtitle: The world is designed against the elderly, writes Don Norman, 83-year-old author of the industry bible Design of Everyday Things and a former Apple VP.

It's a fact. I'm now in my 60s & he's right. We're a large segment of the population that isn't cool, but we have the money & time. Design for us!

Update 14May2020 I listened to the audio version of a slightly later edition. Fantastic & I found it much easier. Was that because it was my second read or the media? I think a combination. If you've ever had trouble because it was too dense, maybe try the audio. That gives me the entire concept & I can come back to puzzle out any details in text. Anyway, I gave the audio version a 5 star review here:
Profile Image for Tam.
405 reviews195 followers
January 2, 2017
This book is more for knowledge than for enjoyment. The writing is rather dry and textbook-like with many abstract/theoretical concepts and ideas. I feel like taking a short course in design, which is still quite helpful. Nevertheless, I was expecting more of "smart" designs, more fun and strange and inspiring stories, but Norman isn't there to entertain but to educate and so there are examples mostly to illustrate concepts and processes. Naturally I was a bit disappointed, but still in general a book is a good read.
Profile Image for Nick Black.
Author 1 book738 followers
April 15, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Yevgeniy Brikman.
Author 4 books611 followers
January 26, 2015
This book has several very important ideas:

* Even if you aren't professional designer, you still use design everywhere in your life, including how you design your house, your resume, a report, some code, etc.

* Design is all about focusing on people's needs and abilities. You may think you know what those are by the virtue of being a human, but you don't, as most human actions are unconscious. Therefore, to be a good designer, you need to learn some psychology.

* Good design is all about finding the root cause (not just the stated problem) and using an iterative process (there are no failures, just experiments).

* Many of the things we attribute to human error are actually caused by poor design. This is because humans make mistakes _all the time_ and a good design _must_ take this into account.

For these alone, it's worth reading. That said, the book feels a little unfocused and scatter brained. It frequently goes off on tangents, most of which are interesting, but not always relevant to the main points. The book is also repetitive, repeating the same message about bad design, constraints, and culture over and over again.

Some good quotes:

Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.

We are all designers in the sense that all of us deliberately design our lives, our rooms, and the way we do things. We can also design workarounds, ways of overcoming the flaws of existing devices.

Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure out what actions are possible and where and how to perform them? Understanding: What does it all mean? How is the product supposed to be used? What do all the different controls and settings mean?

All artificial things are designed. Whether it is the layout of furniture in a room, the paths through a garden or forest, or the intricacies of an electronic device, some person or group of people had to decide upon the layout, operation, and mechanisms. Not all designed things involve physical structures. Services, lectures, rules and procedures, and the organizational structures of businesses and governments do not have physical mechanisms, but their rules of operation have to be designed, sometimes informally, sometimes precisely recorded and specified.

Human-centered design is a design philosophy. It means starting with a good understanding of people and the needs that the design is intended to meet. This understanding comes about primarily through observation, for people themselves are often unaware of their true needs, even unaware of the difficulties they are encountering. Getting the specification of the thing to be defined is one of the most difficult parts of the design, so much so that the HCD principle is to avoid specifying the problem as long as possible but instead to iterate upon repeated approximations. This is done through rapid tests of ideas, and after each test modifying the approach and the problem definition. The results can be products that truly meet the needs of people.

A conceptual model is an explanation, usually highly simplified, of how something works. It doesn’t have to be complete or even accurate as long as it is useful.

When people use something, they face two gulfs: the Gulf of Execution, where they try to figure out how it operates, and the Gulf of Evaluation, where they try to figure out what happened [...] The role of the designer is to help people bridge the two gulfs.

We bridge the Gulf of Execution through the use of signifiers, constraints, mappings, and a conceptual model. We bridge the Gulf of Evaluation through the use of feedback and a conceptual model.

Most of us start by believing we already understand both human behavior and the human mind. After all, we are all human: we have all lived with ourselves all of our lives, and we like to think we understand ourselves. But the truth is, we don’t. Most of human behavior is a result of subconscious processes. We are unaware of them.

When we speak, we often do not know what we are about to say until our conscious mind (the reflective part of the mind) hears ourselves uttering the words.

When we perform a well-learned action, all we have to do is think of the goal and the behavioral level handles all the details: the conscious mind has little or no awareness beyond creating the desire to act.

We need to remove the word failure from our vocabulary, replacing it instead with learning experience. To fail is to learn: we learn more from our failures than from our successes. With success, sure, we are pleased, but we often have no idea why we succeeded. With failure, it is often possible to figure out why, to ensure that it will never happen again.
Scientists know this. Scientists do experiments to learn how the world works. Sometimes their experiments work as expected, but often they don’t. Are these failures? No, they are learning experiences. Many of the most important scientific discoveries have come from these so-called failures.

Eliminate all error messages from electronic or computer systems. Instead, provide help and guidance.

Humans err continually; it is an intrinsic part of our nature. System design should take this into account.

Eliminate the term human error. Instead, talk about communication and interaction: what we call an error is usually bad communication or interaction. When people collaborate with one another, the word error is never used to characterize another person’s utterance. That’s because each person is trying to understand and respond to the other, and when something is not understood or seems inappropriate, it is questioned, clarified, and the collaboration continues. Why can’t the interaction between a person and a machine be thought of as collaboration?

Our strengths are in our flexibility and creativity, in coming up with solutions to novel problems. We are creative and imaginative, not mechanical and precise. Machines require precision and accuracy; people don’t. And we are particularly bad at providing precise and accurate inputs. So why are we always required to do so? Why do we put the requirements of machines above those of people?

Seven fundamental principles of design:
1. Discoverability. It is possible to determine what actions are possible and the current state of the device.
2. Feedback.There is full and continuous information about the results of actions and the current state of the product or service. After an action has been executed, it is easy to determine the new state.
3. Conceptual model. The design projects all the information needed to create a good conceptual model of the system, leading to understanding and a feeling of control. The conceptual model enhances both discoverability and evaluation of results.
4. Affordances. The proper affordances exist to make the desired actions possible.
5. Signifiers.Effective use of signifiers ensures discoverability and that the feedback is well communicated and intelligible.
6. Mappings. The relationship between controls and their actions follows the principles of good mapping, enhanced as much as possible through spatial layout and temporal contiguity.
7. Constraints. Providing physical, logical, semantic, and cultural constraints guides actions and eases interpretation.

Never criticize unless you have a better alternative.

When people err, change the system so that type of error will be reduced or eliminated. When complete elimination is not possible, redesign to reduce the impact.

When many people all have the same problem, shouldn’t another cause be found? If the system lets you make the error, it is badly designed. And if the system induces you to make the error, then it is really badly designed. When I turn on the wrong stove burner, it is not due to my lack of knowledge: it is due to poor mapping between controls and burners. Teaching me the relationship will not stop the error from recurring: redesigning the stove will.

Why do people err? Because the designs focus upon the requirements of the system and the machines, and not upon the requirements of people. Most machines require precise commands and guidance, forcing people to enter numerical information perfectly. But people aren’t very good at great precision. We frequently make errors when asked to type or write sequences of numbers or letters. This is well known: so why are machines still being designed that require such great precision, where pressing the wrong key can lead to horrendous results?

In many industries, the rules are written more with a goal toward legal compliance than with an understanding of the work requirements. As a result, if workers followed the rules, they couldn’t get their jobs done.

Good designers never start by trying to solve the problem given to them: they start by trying to understand what the real issues are.

Don Norman's Law of Product Development: The day a product development process starts, it is behind schedule and above budget.

Good designers are quick learners, for today they might be asked to design a camera; tomorrow, to design a transportation system or a company’s organizational structure. How can one person work across so many different domains? Because the fundamental principles of designing for people are the same across all domains. People are the same, and so the design principles are the same.

Every modern innovation, especially the ones that significantly change lives, takes multiple decades to move from concept to company success A rule of thumb is twenty years from first demonstrations in research laboratories to commercial product, and then a decade or two from first commercial release to widespread adoption. Except that actually, most innovations fail completely and never reach the public.
Profile Image for Laura.
774 reviews30 followers
March 15, 2013
This was written in a decade before authors learned how to write stimulating non-fiction.
Profile Image for Kater Cheek.
Author 34 books265 followers
October 16, 2012
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.
Profile Image for Jessica.
564 reviews135 followers
July 14, 2008
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.
Profile Image for Joe.
182 reviews91 followers
February 19, 2019
The Design of Everyday Things (DOET) is the story of doors, faucets and keyboards; it's the tale of rangetops and refrigerators. Donald Norman beckons the reader to look at the common objects they deal with every day in new and methodical ways. And he offers this central question; what makes an object well-designed as opposed to poorly-designed?

But on the question of design DOET, itself an everyday object, rates poorly. Norman's discussion of individual items proves inconsistent and rarely systematic; sometimes he includes examples of both good and bad design (such as when he analyzes doors), but oftentimes he only mentions the bad (such as when he talks about office phone systems.) He rarely offers suggestions for superior designs and organizes everything by psychological concepts that often prove vague or arcane; section headings include 'Memory is Knowledge in the Head' and 'Using Sound for Visibility.'

Even more fundamentally, explanatory pictures rarely occupy the same page as the text that references them, forcing the reader to page back and forth. That the typesetting for his book is so awkward feels especially glaring as that's the sort of basic design flaw DOET seeks to expose.

To Norman's credit, he shows passion for the subject and writes engagingly when he isn't listing psychological vocabulary words. And the subject of design is fascinating; relevant to everyone, applicable to all areas of life and endlessly detailed. And Norman routinely finds interesting digressions; applying design principles to Legos or charting every plausible game of Tic-Tac-Toe.

And I found myself agreeing with Norman's core philosophy. He argues that function should supersede features and usability is more important than aesthetics. He also takes the stance that if you can't figure out a gadget, it probably isn't your fault and he goes into detail about how common this sort of confusion is.

Norman takes a decidedly pro-humanity outlook in a book all about objects; just one more irony. After all, DOET is a poorly-designed study of design regarding a mundane subject that fascinates.

Edited 2/19/2019
Profile Image for David.
865 reviews1,338 followers
August 6, 2007
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.
Profile Image for Lacey.
24 reviews
May 21, 2014
I'm just going to be real. This book was incredibly boring. I picked it up because I was told it was a classic of the field and would be useful to have in my reading repertoire. And truthfully, the only reason I gave it two stars instead of one is because of the impact this book has clearly had on the design field. I'm sure at the time of its original release, this book was light years ahead of others in the way that it thought about design. I can definitely see how its concepts have become a main part of every design education.

But ultimately, I thought this book was too wordy. It said in hundreds of pages what, in my opinion, could probably have been said in less. A lot of it is very common sense, in that most people don't even really think about the concepts.

Altogether, probably still good that I read it. But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't skim a majority of it for the important bits.
Profile Image for David Bjelland.
152 reviews42 followers
January 22, 2019
BLUF: A good-to-great primer on human-centered design, albeit one that's lighter on examples and political introspection than I'd hoped for.

Longer take:
I'll admit: since first hearing about "Norman doors" in college and then seeing the hilarious "second degree burn kettle" on the cover, I'd built up the idea in my head of this book being some sort of righteous crusade against poorly-designed objects. I looked forward to hours of chuckling along as he gave instances of abominably unusable products, starting from the accidental and working his way towards the truly negligent or coercive, skewering each for our edification; by explaining the shortcomings of each example and walking through the process of improving it (if possible), the reader would come to a bottom-up understanding of the principles of HCD.

Fortunately, there are plenty of click-baity listicles to get my design schadenfreude fix, because this is definitely not that book.

First of all, Norman is only incidentally concerned with "objects" per se - the first chapter or two uses a fair number of them to ground the ideas of mappings and physical constraints, but the book as a whole is mostly concerned with the more intangible disciplines of user interface and process design. This actual makes for a more mind-expanding book, as the reader discovers the underlying analogy between the building blocks of physical and non-physical forms of design.

Secondly, contrary to the polemic I was expecting, Norman's voice is actually pretty neutral and empathetic throughout. Rather than casting blame, he investigates failures of design as a whole the same way he's investigated actual accidents: by seeking root causes in broken feedback loops and failures to account for human nature.

Despite a writing style that I'd call bland and curt (I think in the interest of sound neutral and accessible?), I blew through the first five chapters - solid material with exciting implications! However, DOET started to drag for me in the last two chapters ("Design Thinking" and "Design in the World of Business"), which felt less like popular non-fiction and more like a corporate self-help manual. Maybe it's just a problem of audience? The practical workplace material is probably interesting for current-or-aspiring designers themselves, but IMHO, it has far less to offer the casual reader. Worse, it brought to the foreground some ethical issues that the book had until then steered clear of, but without providing any satisfactory answers for.

As far as I can tell, DOET would like its readers to think that its central principles are apolitical: the reader is encouraged to pursue designs that are usable for a wide variety of users based on their size, ability level, and culture, but this is still viewed through the functional lens of creating the most effective products. What does "effective" mean though? I don't want to assume the worst in the author, but the text itself does little to contradict the idea that "effectiveness" is no more and no less than a means towards profitability. Case in point: it wasn't until Norman briefly touched on (and conspicuously failed to condemn) the strategy of planned obsolescence that it occurred to me just how limited in scope his idea of "human"-centered design really is.

Wouldn't a design philosophy that holistically factored in human needs and psychology favor durable, recyclable products with replaceable components rather than products we're forced to discard every year or two, polluting our environment for generations? Wouldn't a human-centered design philosophy content itself with products that served actual human needs, rather than preying on our insecurities to create new ones?

It's interesting to me that Norman used to be an executive at Apple, a company infamous for perfecting the art of planned obsolescence - does he fail to condemn the practice here because he doesn't want to burn any bridges, or because he and Apple are actually in alignment and he sees nothing wrong with it? I'd guess it's not too hard to find out where he stands if you really wanted to know, but within the scope of this book, his failure to take a stance on any political question related to design presents the reader with an unsavory question:

Are "humans" supposed to be the ultimate beneficiaries of Norman's "human-centered design", or are we just a demographic to be focus-grouped as a means of maximizing market penetration?

The Design of Everyday Things leaves it to other books to answer that question, apparently.
Profile Image for Traveller.
228 reviews719 followers
January 16, 2015
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!
Profile Image for Stringy.
147 reviews41 followers
September 18, 2011
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.
Profile Image for Phil.
81 reviews2 followers
May 1, 2021
A painful read. There are nuggets of good argument and principle, hence the 2 stars. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a book before and thought “was there an editor for this title?”

Overly verbose, full of stories that marginally support their chapter’s theme but don’t help to make the point, and full of unsupported “just take my word for it because I wrote the book” argumentation. No footnotes to back it up?

Hard to believe this is the best book on design. Way overhyped. Glad I’m done with it - had to read it for work.
Profile Image for Rob Adey.
Author 2 books9 followers
June 28, 2015
Sensible thinking, but does come across at times like an 80s observational comedy routine about motion sensitive taps.
Profile Image for Amin.
375 reviews337 followers
September 28, 2022
کتابهایی هستند که دریچه‌ای به یک حوزه ناشناخته ولی مفید باز می‌کنند. یعنی چیزی درباره یک حوزه جدید نمی‌دانی و یک کتاب کمک می‌کند تا حداقل‌های مناسبی درباره آن بدانی که از بسیاری نکته و شنیده جسته‌وگریخته بهتر است. این کتاب، که در خلال آشنایی با محققین حوزه طراحی و تحقیق در تجربه کاربری (که در فارسی شاید نام مبهمی باشد) با نام آن برخوردم و توجهم را جلب کرد، نمونه‌ بسیار خوبی برای این دسته‌ از کتابهاست که برای خواننده عادی خارج از یک حوزه هم می‌تواند بسیار آموزنده و مفید باشد و خبر از قلم خوب و روان یک انسان کارشناس در آن حوزه می‌دهد. این حوزه هم البته حوزه طراحی است با کاربردهای صنعتی و کسب‌وکار

یعنی در نهایت، چه چیزی بهتر از اینکه بعد از مطالعه این کتاب حس میکنم مشاهده‌گر بهتری شده‌ام. توجهم به جزییات در طراحی چیزها و محیط پیرامونی بیشتر شده است. به قول نویسنده اگر در استفاده از ابزاری دچار مشکل هستید پیش از اینکه مشکل را به پای خودتان بنویسید، آن را در طراحی ابزار جستجو کنید. طراحی‌های خوب و بد را تشخیص دهید و از خوب‌ها حمایت کنید. همین ناظر بهتر بودن و جستجو به دنبال طراحی‌های زیبا، مفید،‌ کاربردی و آسان بهترین آموخته از این کتاب است. ممکن است گاهی جزییات زیاد و تکراری به‌نظر برسند یا ارتباط بین مباحث و طراحی گم شوند اما همچنان اعتماد به دانش نویسنده و استفاده‌اش از علوم دیگر - هرچند کم‌عمق - برای توضیح بهتر مسائل مربوط به طراحی باعث چشم‌پوشی از این موارد اندک می‌شود
Profile Image for Bryan Alexander.
Author 4 books292 followers
May 6, 2014
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.
Profile Image for Neven.
Author 3 books412 followers
July 2, 2014
DoeT isn't the world's best written book—Norman's style is too often kvetchy-casual, sounding more like a modern-day ranty blog post than a classic of academic design writing.

But that is only one way in which this book is ahead of its time. The observations and recommendations regarding usable design here hold to extremely well 25 years later; even though Norman's examples concern ancient phone systems and slide projectors, it all translates perfectly well to virtual touchscreen UIs of today. And when he makes predictions about the future, he's eerily prescient. Watch him describe smartphones, the World Wide Web, Nest thermostats, and Siri… in 1988. Not only does he correctly predict future technology, he's better aware of its problems than today's designers.

That alone excuses the book's stylistic shortcomings and proves its undeniable worth.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 7 books2,041 followers
May 15, 2020
If you can't figure out how to use a simple device, it's poorly designed. Fancy designs that take away usage cues suck. His prime example are 'Norman doors' (Yes, named for him & his example by others over the years.) those without visibly hinged sides or handles. It can take several seconds to figure out how to operate them. Not a big deal? We deal with thousands devices regularly & poor design means a lot of frustration & wasted time. It can also mean accidents, even fatalities.

Norman started off as a psychologist. I don't know if I noticed his explanations on how we make mental maps, narratives, & our various brain bugs more or if they were new, but they were great. Explains a lot about the difficulties we can have with 'simple' things. He makes this clear in a very readable & often funny way. One example was car versus house heaters. Both have thermostats that power the heat fully on, but they work differently. Turning a house system up high won't make the house heat faster, but it will in the car. Refrigerators & their freezers? Forget about it! When there are fewer controls than functions, problems can arise unless there are cues to guide us, but in this case, he had a terrible problem understanding the system. His has 2 knobs, one for each compartment, but only one thermostat & feedback requires waiting 24 hours. The knobs actually control air flow. Practically impossible to figure out - very poor design.

This was written before the smart phone & the Internet hadn't really taken off, so his views of issues of the future at the end of the book were quite instructive. Often they were right, but I can see how the technology has matured to mitigate some. For instance, he thought writing a text with hypertext would require a team of people, while we do it all the time.

He really nailed feature creep, though. The number of functions that are in word processing programs today are staggering & yet we mostly only use relatively few each. Just too much & only needed in special circumstances. He doesn't mention it, but when the manufacturer doesn't fix basic, underlying issues that have afflicted us for generations & still aren't fixed because development is focused on adding new gimmicks or changing interfaces, it's downright frustrating. (Microsoft Office!)

He glories in some good designs & shows how they matured. He takes us through the car & phone's evolution of form. He really likes his pen, too. It's just a cheap marker, but he discusses all the things the designer had to think of to get it just right. It's sharp enough to write well, the handle makes you want to hold it in just the right place, & it can also be used for sticking into the holes of electronics for resets. All that in a cheap pen!

He ends by saying we should boycott poor design. I wish I could, but our choices are incredibly limited for all the products available. For instance, I'd like an inexpensive car that I could pick the instrumentation on. If I have an automatic transmission, I don't need a tachometer, but they all have one. Why? I can hear the engine rev & have no need to shift. I'd really like temperature & oil gauge rather than a single idiot light that only alerts me when one of hundreds of items are wrong. I can't shut my idiot light up because my gas gauge sending unit is busted & I won't spend $600+ to fix it (drop gas tank & replace fuel pump which has the sending unit built in) since I just use the trip meter to know when to fill up, but it means the warning light is worthless. I had to buy an OBDII scanner to check occasionally. Ridiculous!!!

Anyway, great book & I highly recommend it. Audio probably isn't the best format, although this was very well narrated, since he does have pictures & such. I didn't have too much trouble visualizing most & I did read a paper copy years ago. It would also be nice to look back over some sections. He can say a lot that's worth mulling over.

Table of Contents:
The psychopathology of everyday things
The psychology of everyday actions
Knowledge in the head and in the world
Knowing what to do : constraints, discoverability and feedback
Human error? no, bad design
Design thinking
Design in the world of business.

I reviewed an earlier (1990), paper edition here. I think that is the same as The Psychology of Everyday Things (1988) which was the original title of the book. Norman changed the title to get it out of the Psych section of book stores, but it does accurately describe the thrust of the book. This is not the latest edition of the book. The latest is a much revised & updated edition in 2013 according to the Wikipedia article.
Profile Image for Katie.
408 reviews5 followers
March 17, 2016
I think there is really only one gif to sum this book up properly:

This book, although the examples are dated (as listed in nearly every review), is quite fabulous. The original title was actually "The Psychology of Everyday Things" which was less friendly to the average person, but quite accurate.

Like I said in a previous update, I feel like this book should be required reading for any type of designer, but somehow I had missed it until now. Great detail about design methodologies, constraints, and psychology - but not too much to be overwhelming (in my opinion). The examples, while dated, were still quite excellent (assuming you were born pre-2000s but hey you can google things). Since I listened to the audiobook (on Hoopla) I missed out on the diagrams which is disappointing, so I think I recommend reading the actual book. (However, I quite enjoyed the narrator, Peter Berkrot.)

I think that the younger generations (like myself or maybe this is just applicable no matter the period in history) assume that older people or even people their own age who don't understand technology are dumb. I know I've felt that. While working in a game dev company, we often expressed how stupid our users were, because things seemed obvious to us. It was great to hear his thoughts on how it's not your fault you can't figure something out, it's the designer's. I think anyone who has ever made something needs to hear that. You made it, you have a mental model of how it works, of course it seems intuitive to you. He also goes into the difficulties designers face in getting to a good design and the struggle to keep a good design from being changed along the way.

I do think there were a few times he oversimplified things as far as challenges designers face, but overall he seemed to take a fair stance. It was especially fascinating to hear his "theories" on what computers would become (this was written in '88) and compare them to what HAS happened so far. He's often quite spot on, though I'm not sure how many of those things he helped MAKE happen. ;)

BLAH BLAH BLAH, IT'S GOOD. If you're a designer, a must read. If you aren't, it may be a little dense but still worth it if you're interested. Definitely will at least help you figure out how to look out for good design in the products you buy.
Profile Image for Brian Rosenblat.
26 reviews80 followers
August 11, 2017

Can't believe I hadn't read this before.

There's a lot of wisdom in this book. I'd highly recommend for anyone pursuing a career in design, product, marketing, or tech, or anyone who just wants to build great products.

Internalize these ideas and put them into practice and you will create better products that will impact people's lives.
Profile Image for Amber Lea.
723 reviews99 followers
January 7, 2022
This book gets props for teaching me how the temperature knobs in my refrigerator work because I never would have figured it out otherwise.

This book doesn’t feel horribly dated despite being over 30 years old, but I do love the part where he’s like, “Someday we’ll have small computers that we can carry around with us in our pockets” and he spends a minute talking about how great that will be.

It’s true. It’s pretty great.

At the end he talks about the hot new tech: hyperlinks.

The concepts in this book are timeless, BUT you have the added time capsule bonus which makes me love this book even more.

The only reason I didn't give this book five stars is simply because it could have been shorter. I would have cut out some of the stuff in the last half. But it's still an excellent book and I think it's should be MANDATORY for anyone who designs anything for anybody because when people design without realizing these concepts it's absolutely infuriating.
Profile Image for Thomas.
Author 1 book27 followers
February 17, 2019
This was alright.

This book came out around 1988 and was updated in 2002. That's not a problem through most of it. there are timeless principles here that will make any designer of consumer goods better at his job. These principles will also help the rest of us to be smarter consumers or just smarter people. I'm a man before I'm a consumer. A...man...I tell you!

It's little dry in places and there were points when it occurred to me that this book would really benefit from an update but if you take it for what it is, it's worth your time.
Profile Image for Panshul Garg.
19 reviews88 followers
February 9, 2022
I have always been fascinated by the design of tiny things around me, that's how I stumbled across this book. Norman is a very renowned individual in the field of design. This book talks about design from a macro as well the micro-level.
It also talks about how human psychology works to use various objects from doors to stoves to various industrial equipment. It also put a lot of emphasis on design as the foundational element to any change.
One outstanding learning from the book has been to investigate mistakes and slips from humans from the perspective of design. It is highly unlikely when something does/did not seem to work as intended, the design would likely be at fault, rather than a human being. This thing can be interpolated into our life as well, every time we tend to not be able to do or achieve something, we tend to blame ourselves. But if we look closely at the design of the system that we have built, we will surely find some limitations there and we can work upon it to improve that system.

Question everything, look and observe your actions when you interact with a product or system. You will surely get some deep insights about the design of the same.
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