May 26, 2012

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman

I've just finished the book: "The design of everyday things" by Donald A. Norman. The book is considered to be a classic if you are interested in design from a usability perspective - not how to design good-looking products. It was written in 1988, so some parts are quite old from a technological perspective. For example, the author explains the functions of a computer mouse - a then revolutionizing product. However, the largest part of the book is timeless and is still useful in 2012.

Here are some important points from the book:
  • Well-designed objects are easy to interpret and understand. They contain visible clues to their operations.
  • Warning labels and large instruction manuals are signs of failures, attempts to patch up problems that should have been avoided by proper design in the first place.
  • Designers know too much about their product to be objective judges: the features they have come to love and prefer may not be understood or preferred by future customers.
  • Touch a computer terminal just when it fails, and you are apt to believe that you caused the failure, even though the failure and your action were related only by coincidence.
  • New products are almost guaranteed to fail. It usually takes 5-6 attempts to get a product right – but a new product is “dead” if it doesn't catch on in the first 2-3 times the product is launched (everyone believes it to be a failure).
  • The paradox of technology: The same technology that simplifies life by providing more functions in each device also complicates life by making the device harder to learn. But the principles of good design can make minimize complexity and difficulty.
  • If an error is possible, someone will make it. The designer must assume that all possible errors will occur and design so as to minimize the chance of the error in the first place. Errors should be easy to detect, they should have minimal consequences, and, if possible, their effects should be reversible.
  • The reward structure of the design community tends to put aesthetics first – not function
  • The best computer programs are the ones in which the computer itself disappears, in which you work directly on the problem without having to be aware of the computer.
  • One important method of making systems easier to learn and to use is to make them explorable – to encourage users to experiment and learn the possibilities through active exploration.
  • Don't take away control. Automation is dangerous when it takes too much control from the user. It can eliminate a person's ability to function without it – a disaster if the automated mechanisms of an aircraft fails.
  • To make something easy to use, match the number of controls to the number of functions and organize the panels according to function. To make something look like it is easy, minimize the number of controls. Hide the un-relevant controls.

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