Booknotes Design

This week we're reading: The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman

By Matt Boffey, founder

November 18, 2015 | 4 min read

Every Wednesday, London Strategy Unit's Matt Boffey reads one of the most influential books from the world of innovation, marketing or creativity so you don't have to. This week's read is The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman, 2013 (Originally published as The Psychology of Everyday Things, 1988).

Why have we chosen this book?

Because we live in a world shaped by design. From the way our companies are structured to the door handles we use to get into the office, the majority of things we interact with have been designed by another person. Norman asks us to interrogate that world and constantly ask “how can make sure our design always puts humans first?”

What’s the original thought or argument?

That all design should be user-centric - making it as easy as possible for the user to achieve their end goal. First off, this means designing for discoverability: enabling the user to figure out what the product is meant to achieve. Then it means designing for understanding: making using the product an intuitive and easily-learned experience. Keeping these two principles in the forefront of your mind is the key to user-centric design.

If you want to look smart, just read

Chapter Two, ‘The Psychology of Everyday Actions’. In this chapter, Norman explains how intuition and learning shape the way that humans approach new interactions. Rather than attributing mistakes to “human error”, Norman argues that it is the designer’s responsibility to minimise possible errors by make sure that newly objects are intuitive to use never misleading.

You might want to skip

Chapter Five, which looks in-depth at cases where bad design causes real-life errors. This mostly considers cases in aviation and heavy engineering where following a checklist might have prevented catastrophe. Sage advice, but not the most exciting part of the book.

Why trust this author?

A long-time academic and author, Don Norman is currently director at The Design Lab at University of California, San Diego. Throughout his career he’s been a vocal advocate of user-centred designed both as a professor at Harvard and as an executive while Vice President of Advanced Technology at Apple.

Once you’ve read this you don’t need to read

Henry Dreyfuss’ Designing for People. Norman’s book is much bigger in scope and has aged significantly better than Dreyfuss’ landmark industrial design tome.

Why should this stay on your bookshelf?

Because everyone’s designing things - from apps to customer journeys - but that doesn’t make everyone a designer. Whatever you’re designing, The Design of Everyday Things is a reminder never to ignore the needs and psychology of people, lest you end up creating something that people hate using.

What’s the one thing you should do differently after reading this book?

Apply a bit of design thinking to your organisation: Why is it structured in that way? What problems is that structure engineered to solve? What problems does it create? Answering these questions is the first step in overhauling your corporate structure into something that’s more human-centric and goal-focussed.

Best quote in the whole book?

“The challenge is to use the principles of human-centred design to produce positive results, products that enhance lives and add to our pleasure and enjoyment. The goal is to produce a great product, one that is successful, and that customers love. It can be done.”

Matt Boffey is the founder of London Strategy Unit, which you can follow on Twitter @LSUsocial

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