Enjoying “The Design of Everyday Things”

You can probably name a handful of books that have had a profound impact on you. I recently finished one such book for me, “The Design of Everyday Things,” by Donald Norman. This is a seminal book about usability in design, and despite being more than 20 years old is still incredibly relevant and a thorough education in how to assess (and improve) the usability of anything humans interact with. The book’s perspective is that humans are intelligent and highly adaptable so if we have difficulty using something, the fault most likely falls on the design of that object.

 I started reading it last summer before beginning grad school in information management. Since I was planning on transitioning into user experience and usability after many years as a practicing designer, it had been on my reading list for some time, but had fallen more in the “should read” than “can’t wait to read” category. I was surprised at how fascinating I found it; in particular, I found his analysis of the kinds of errors humans make, their cause and the design principles which could reduce them absolutely fascinating (he was originally a cognitive scientist specializing in human error). Not to mention that the accuracy of  many of his predictions are spot on (“Some [useful] aids are yet to come: the pocket computer with a powerful display, which will keep our notes, remind us of our appointments, and smooth our passage through the schedules and interactions of life”). 

Like any great book I was sorry to find myself at the last page, but since it’s such a dense book it invites careful re-reading. I’m happy to report that I’m already enjoying the preface again, and when I’m done with the second read I can always move onto his other books. 

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