Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Design of Everyday Things - by Donald Norman

In this work, cognitive scientist and usability engineer, Donald Norman, presents many of the concepts that he believes underpin both good and bad "user-centered" product design. He walks the reader through examples of human interactions with everyday things (like doors, telephones, switches, cars, etc.) to illustrate the fundamental principles of functional design.

As this book was first published in 1988, even this "old" reader found the case studies it contains a little dated. Although the ideas presented are principally timeless, they are also largely common sense. Nonetheless, many of these easily understood points, in retrospect, may not be so obvious to the designer, whose viewpoint is biased by his/her inherent expertise with the thing he/she is designing. It can often be hard for this person to recognize cues that might provide the user a misguided conceptual model and, hence, result in difficult or improper usage.

When this book was first published in 1998, it was titled "The Psychology of Everyday Things." In the introduction to the 2002 edition (the version I read), the author explains that he changed the title to avoid the tendency for it to be marketed as a psychology, rather than design, book. From my perspective, though, the time he spends evaluating the psychology of how humans interact with the user interfaces of everyday things and devices was the most insightful.

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