I have this thing with doors. I find doors tricky, especially the automated and revolving kind. I live close to a mall with a small set of revolving doors, slowly they go round and round and you’re walking up the doors adjusting your walking speed according to the perceived speed of the current revolving of said doors. Then just as you reach the doors, they speed up making it so that I must always sort of jump into the revolution as if it were a doors-y version of jump ropes with the heightened risk of becoming stuck in the revolving doors and forever being an urban legend of stupidity at the local mall. This book makes the case that I am not, in fact, terrible at walking through doors, rather the door has been poorly designed.
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.
Everything we own has, at some point, been designed by someone, either poorly or well, but someone has sat down and made a decision about the color of this knob of the icon of that button and it is us, the regular people, who face the consequences of those design choices everyday as we walk about interacting with things. The Design of Everyday Things tries to explain the design process and give some ideas to how to make that process better.
The Design of Everyday Things is, in fact, a classic piece of literature. All of my bachelor’s degree’s curriculum seemed to, in some way, regurgitate the ideas presented here. So it is only fitting that I now, four years later, am actually reading the thing.
The thing is good. It is in fact about the design of everyday things, like ovens and stoves and telephones and even buttons and doors and chairs. There are also chapters on Nuclear Power Station which for some people, I guess, are everyday things, even if they’re aren’t for me. I don’t own a microwave oven either, but the point still stands.
(Spoiler alert) Good design is all about psychology, we must identify and understand the root cause to a problem, issue and want and then experiment our way to a good solution. This was not new knowledge to me as I’ve been working this way for years, but still is was well written with lots of useful examples. I read the revised and expanded edition and I must say that perhaps the revisions were necessary (many of the technological examples were updated from the previous version), but the expansion was not. Norman is a very relaxed and easy writer, but at times it felt a bit meandering and he went off on tangents that did not seems strictly necessary. He was also quite repetitive which makes the book excellent for excerpts, but rather tedious to read in one go.
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?
In summation, I think a lot about how things work and so I liked reading about The Design of Everyday Things. And even if you don’t think about how things work DoET is a great introduction for the inquisitive mind.