Monday, February 1, 2010

The Design of Everyday Things

Book: The Design of Everyday Things
By: Donald A. Norman

(comment left on William Hodge's blog.)

In this book, Norman tackles the question of why people struggle with the use of everyday things and what design principles should be applied to solve these problems.
Norman takes the perspective of the user in his book and stresses that things should be made easy to use and understand without the use of instructions or experience. In other words he stresses the design of intuitive devices. His guidelines for making such well made products included:

Provide natural mappings between the action and the desired result.
Providing Feedback to the user.
Use knowledge provided by the environment and provide subtle clues of use in the design of the object.
Use of standardization so the user only has to learn things once.
Design a system so that failure isn't painful.

My views:

The beauty of Norman's approach is that it is focused on what really matters in the design of everyday things: The ease of use and satisfaction it brings to the user.
With all the design processes and constraints and considerations that a product must go through, it is easy to forget that we make devices to make our lives easier and more productive and it's good to see that Norman really stresses that. Another really neat aspect of this book is it's age and perspective. The book was made in 1988 when Nintendo and computer companies were still in their infancy. Norman talks about the trouble that people have with using computers and how the revolutionary take on using a mouse with computer should be praised. While this kind of perception has it's limitations on modern society, sometimes it is prophetic to see modern devices taking the advice of the principles of the book and applying them.

Norman also presented his concerns about the "house of the future" and all the complications in control that are presented in the setup he imagines. Even 22 years later, we still don't see a lot of the innovations that troubled Norman's mind but it is easy to see how these technologies could be potentially problematic and we should strive to take his advice in designing the everyday things of Norman's future, our present, and the world of tomorrow.

With all of that said, I wish Norman had given more examples of both good and bad design and didn't focus so much on the principles and concepts. It would have been a more interesting read that way.

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