The Design of Everyday Things | Donald A. Norman

Summary of: The Design of Everyday Things
By: Donald A. Norman


Get ready to explore the fascinating world of everyday design with our summary of Donald A. Norman’s book, ‘The Design of Everyday Things’. This book dives into the heart of what makes good design, as well as exposes the shortcomings that lead to bad design. You’ll discover the factors that shape the usability of everyday objects, the importance of human-centered design, and the powerful role of psychology in product design. By engaging with these key insights, you’ll never look at the objects that surround you the same way again!

The Importance of Good Design

Do you struggle to use everyday products and blame yourself for being inadequate? The reality is that bad design is the culprit. Designers often neglect the relationship between users and technology, resulting in products that are confusing and hard to use. Good design, on the other hand, brings technology and people together seamlessly. The rapid development of technology is one of the leading causes of bad design, as devices become increasingly complex and difficult to navigate. However, designers must remember that no matter how innovative a technology may be, if it is not user-friendly, it will not be successful. The importance of good design cannot be underestimated, as it enhances the overall user experience and increases the likelihood of consumers adopting and enjoying new technology.

Designing User-Friendly Products

Have you ever struggled to use a new technology due to the complicated instruction manual? That’s because the product is poorly designed. Good design should allow users to learn as they go, without requiring extensive study of manuals. One way to help users is by providing clear signs or clues. For example, most people have no trouble using a door because it gives clear indications of whether to push or pull. Designers need to aim for user- and learner-friendly products, or risk causing frustrating and sometimes even dangerous situations for users.

Designing for the Three Psychological Levels

When designing a product, it’s crucial to consider users’ experiences on the three psychological levels: visceral, behavioral, and reflective. By doing so, product designers can create better user experiences that align with their needs at each level.

As a product designer, you want your designs to be innovative to stand out from the competition. But for users to appreciate your products, you must take their psychology into account. According to the author, people engage with products on three psychological levels: visceral, behavioral, and reflective.

At the visceral level, people react unconsciously to products, like pressing buttons or pulling handles. To engage users, buttons should be easy to find and fool-proof. Meanwhile, the reflective level is where people perform complex cognitive functions, such as problem-solving. To engage users here, a product should provide intelligent solutions that easily fit into their plans and problems.

However, the behavioral level is where people exhibit quick replies to actions, such as selecting settings. This provides a challenge for product designers since the user doesn’t have enough time to think. Therefore, products should have simplified and quick options.

For instance, when designing a washing machine, the reflective level responds to the user’s plan (choosing the wash cycle) to achieve the goal (clean clothes for the meeting). The behavioral level comes in when the user selects the options and interprets the results, while the visceral level involves pressing the buttons and observing. A washing machine that caters to users’ psychological levels will be not only easy to use but also yield positive results.

In conclusion, a product designed with the three psychological levels in mind will have a better user experience. By incorporating visceral, behavioral, and reflective levels, designers can create innovative products that cater to users’ needs.

Finding the Root Cause

When people have trouble using a product, it’s crucial to assess the main cause of the problem. Surface-level solutions won’t effectively resolve design errors. Instead, we should focus on getting to the root of the problem, which will help users in the long run. Blaming the user for the mistake won’t solve anything. Design thinking is an open inquiry method used for diagnosing and solving problems. It goes below the surface of the problem to find its underlying causes. For example, Toyota’s production team follows a procedure known as the “five whys” to get to the root of a problem. They ask “why” five times until they’ve targeted not just the obvious errors, but also the hidden ones. At times, changing the appearance of the controls may paradoxically decrease chances of “human error.” Therefore, finding the root cause through design thinking is the solution to permanently fix problems and help users.

The Power of Constraints

Constraints, whether physical or cultural, can educate users on how to use a product appropriately. IKEA’s self-assembly furniture is an excellent example of this concept. The nuts and bolts of different sizes all match with equal-sized holes, making it easier to assemble. Shared beliefs can lead to cultural constraints, making everyday devices such as the screwdriver easily accessible to all. Constraints can also remind people of important uses for the device they may have forgotten, like the “save” function on the computer. Without constraints, people would get confused and struggle to use the product they bought. Overall, constraints are essential tools that can educate users and make life simpler.

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