[2008-11-20] “The Design Of Everyday Things”

As I struggle with opening a fruit-juice pack by tugging at its inconveniently-placed pastic ring (that hurts your finger if you pull it too hard or for too long) or try to open a cola can by trying to get my thick finger under the metal ring that is placed too close to the surface of the can, I think to myself: “Who designs such things? What were they thinking?” In “The Design of Everyday Things” by Donald Norman I find a kindred spirit who is frustrated by the apparent lack of thought put into the design of most of the things around us and who suggests several ways of improving such designs.

Have you been frustrated by the numerous confusingly-labelled buttons on your remote control, DVD player or music-system? When you arrive at a door are you forced to wonder if you are supposed to push it or pull it and whether on the left or the right? Do you find most software bewildering? Do you blame yourself for being clumsy with such things? If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, the bad design of the thing in question is most likely to be blamed.

The charm of this book is that it is very easy for most of us to relate to the problems presented here. The beauty of this book is that it is not just a collection of rants about bad designs but has concrete suggestions for improvements. The author presents several principles that a designer must keep in mind when working on a product. The book has quite a few pictures and diagrams that illustrate the author's points.

The book was initially called “The Psychology of Everyday Things”, which made for a nice acronym (“POET”). To make it more accessible to lay readers and to prevent miscategorisation in bookshops and libraries, it was renamed to “The Design of Everyday Things”. Some of the illustrations and passages still refer to “POET” though, which is a bit disconcerting.

The book is required reading for every designer. It is also required reading for software developers since software presents some of the most complicated and unintuitive interfaces to people. Most of the book is an entertaining read, though my eyes glazed over some passages that involved cognitive psychology.

Other Posts from 2008