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Omkar Konaraddi

Notes from "The Design of Everyday Things"

Published on 2018-07-12.

Notes from The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.

Chapter 1: The Psychopathology of Everyday Things

"Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding" (p.3)

affordances- all possible actions

signifiers- communicate a subset of affordances

Always provide relevant and useful feedback to convey the results of an action.

Users love to have a conceptual model. Natural mappings can help build a conceptual model. The conceptual model does not need to be "accurate as long as it is useful" (p.25). For example, the concept of files and folders is useful when working with computers but a computer does not contain literal files or folders.

Chapter 2: The Psychology of Everyday Actions

"When people use something... they try to figure out how it operates and... what happened" (p.38). People are interested in the execution and evaluation of an action. Good design makes execution and evaluation easy.

The ease of execution is determined by the following:

The ease of evaluation is determined by the following:

Radical ideas often come from root cause analysis. To get to the root cause, keep asking "Why?". Here's a paraphrased example from the book: People don't want a quarter-inch drill. People don't want a quarter-inch hole. People want to put a shelf on the wall.

"Cognition attempts to make sense of the world: emotion assigns value" (p.47). A user's emotional experience will dictate their judgement and what they remember from the experience.

"If designers and researchers do not sometimes fail, it is a sign that they are not trying hard enough — they are not thinking the great creative thoughts that will provide breakthroughs in how we do things. It is possible to avoid failure, to always be safe. But that is also the route to a dull, uninteresting life" (p.64)

"human error is usually a result of poor design" (p.66)

feedback- answers "What happened?"

feedforward- answers "What can I do?"

Seven Fundamental Principles of Design (p.72):

  1. Discoverability - "what actions are possible and the current state"
  2. Feedback - "results of actions" and communication of state changes
  3. Conceptual Model - leads "to understanding and a feeling of control... enhances both discoverability and evaluation of results"
  4. Affordances - possible actions
  5. Signifiers - communicate affordances and feedback
  6. Mappings - "relationship between controls and their actions"
  7. Constraints - "guide actions and ease interpretation"

Chapter 3: Knowledge in the Head and in the World

Three common ways to accomplish mapping (p.115):

  1. "Controls are mounted directly on the item to be controlled"
  2. "Controls are as close as possible to the object to be controlled"
  3. "Controls are arranged in the same spatial configuration as the objects to be controlled"

Chapter 4: Knowing what to do: constraints, discoverability, and feedback

Four types of constraints: physical, cultural, semantic, and logical. Both cultural and semantic are subject to change over time.

skeumorphic- "incorporating old, familiar ideas into new technologies, even though they no longer play a functional role" (p.159)

Chapter 5: Human error? No, bad design

Multiple users making mistakes should be treated as a red flag for bad design.

This chapter classifies errors and mistakes. Most can be resolved with root cause analysis and then addressing the root cause. Sometimes multiple factors contribute to an error or mistake. In such situations, root cause analysis will find the intent. If that doesn't apply, then design with redundancy.

"The design challenge is to present information about the state of the system... in a way that is easy to assimilate and interpret, as well as to provide alternative explanations and interpretations" (p.184)

Chapter 6: Design Thinking

"Engineers and businesspeople are trained to solve problems. Designers are trained to discover the real problems" (p.218). Design thinking is a two step process: find the right problem then find the best solution.

Chapter 7: Design in the World of Business

An interesting chapter to read. It discusses design with respect to product development and innovation.


Lots of material in this book was obvious, well-disseminated, or over-analyzed to the point where things start to feel arbitrary with little justification. I was underwhelmed by this book. However, it does articulate its ideas well and there is value in books that communicate known ideas well.

Overall, I can't recommend this as a book to read. There were good parts of this book and I've noted down what I thought was notable here.