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Living with Complexity [Hardcover]

Donald A. Norman
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Dec 2010
If only today's technology were simpler! It's the universal lament, but it's wrong. We don't want simplicity. Simple tools are not up to the task. The world is complex; our tools need to match that complexity. Simplicity turns out to be more complex than we thought. In this provocative and informative book, Don Norman writes that the complexity of our technology must mirror the complexity and richness of our lives. It's not complexity that's the problem, it's bad design. Bad design complicates things unnecessarily and confuses us. Good design can tame complexity. Norman gives us a crash course in the virtues of complexity. But even such simple things as salt and pepper shakers, doors, and light switches become complicated when we have to deal with many of them, each somewhat different. Managing complexity, says Norman, is a partnership. Designers have to produce things that tame complexity. But we too have to do our part: we have to take the time to learn the structure and practice the skills. This is how we mastered reading and writing, driving a car, and playing sports, and this is how we can master our complex tools. Complexity is good. Simplicity is misleading. The good life is complex, rich, and rewarding--but only if it is understandable, sensible, and meaningful.

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Living with Complexity + Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things + The Design of Everyday Things, revised and expanded edition
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Product details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press (7 Dec 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262014866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262014861
  • Product Dimensions: 14.6 x 21 x 3.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 270,976 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Preparing to lecture at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, I face a projector control panel with two buttons and the label PAUSE below them. The ON button is illuminated. Does this indicate the current state, telling me the projector is on? (It doesn't seem to be.) Or does it signal the relevant action, meaning the projector is off, so I should press ON? And wait...why does the label below say PAUSE? Does ON put the pause function on, making the projector temporarily off? Donald Norman has stood at such consoles. His is a cognitive scientist who worked for Apple, and he has written half a dozen books on technology and design and taught at several US universities. He analyses the design of complex artefacts and systems, and the ways we let design fight against our complex tool use. He wites lucidly enough to be read by a child of 10- yet interestingly enough to entrance an adult who (like me) has reviled the frustrations of our technological environment for decades. By my bed is an alarm-clock radio with 15 buttons on the front, bearing tiny labels pertaining to two or three different functions each. To shift preset from radio station 1 to preset station 2, the command syntax is: Row 2 Column 1 then Row 1 Column 4 then Row 1 Column 3. Try that in the dark. Norman has slept beside similar inscrutably interfaced design disasters, and works to warn people of the impractical and ugly complexity in the products they make or tolerate. Deep and enjoyably nail-hitting insights and recommendations fill his book. Yet it induced deep melancholy in me. Norman hears the music, but the world does not. The flood of maldesigned junk persists. Norman once proposed to the organisers of a design competition that the objects the jury judged should be set up and positioned for actual use, with plugs and cables attached and visible. They smiled indulgently and ignored him. Messy tangles of wires and disastrous inaccessibility of crucial sockets and switches on the back were not going to figure as design issues; juries would continue assessing the elegance of isolated non-functioning boxes on plinths. Do not imagine that Norman thinks the world should be simpler. He sees complexity as good: we need it. His point is that devices can and should be designed for elegant handling of the irreducible complexity of modern life. There are ways to manage complexity. Often he sees complexity where some wrongly see simplicity. The book's cover shows a ceramic salt and pepper set. Which shaker is which? You can't tell (people check by shaking a bit into their palm). Some think the one with more holes is the salt, and the others think it is obviously the pepper. You have to know the beliefs of the person who filled the things in order to know how to use them. The potentially simple has been made confusing. (Norman's suggestion: transparent casings.) Botched design impedes our lives daily. And we tolerate it rather than rising up in revolt. I constantly marvel at people's willingness to be content with workarounds. (Admit it: haven't you sometimes deleted a paragraph and retyped because you couldn't get Microsoft Word to stop mis-formatting it?) If you resonate with what I've said, you will like Norman's calm voice, keen observations and sage counsel about what could be done. Read his book. And weep; for it may be just the three of us- you, me and Donald Norman- who hear the music." --Geoffrey K. Pullum, T.H.E.

About the Author

Business Week has named Don Norman as one of the world's most influential designers. He has been both a professor and an executive: he was Vice President of Advanced Technology at Apple; his company, the Nielsen Norman Group, helps companies produce human-centered products and services; he has been on the faculty at Harvard, the University of California, San Diego, Northwestern University, and KAIST, in South Korea. He is the author of many books, including The Design of Everyday Things, The Invisible Computer (MIT Press, 1998), Emotional Design, and The Design of Future Things.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful 12 April 2011
By Prem
This book is a must for any modern designers looking to understand usability greater. Im currently developing a service, and many principles of service design are explained in depth in this book (customer journeys, waiting in lines) and subsequently helped me move in the right direction. This book talks about the sense designers should implement into their products.
He explains things in a coherent manner, and is an excellent read. I would recommend this book as a must to any product/service designers and students.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent book from Donald Norman 30 Nov 2011
he does it again! Donald is just amazing when it comes to explaining Complex systems and how to create better products.
This book contains some stuff from his previous published books, but this book is more about Experience Design.

I don't recall his previous books containing much information about Experience Design. THIS book does that. I feel that Donald deliberately waited with explaining and describing experience design since he first wanted his audience to learn the basic principles of usability. When you know the basics of product design (usability), you can then build up your skills with experience design (user experience).

Excellent examples are provided as usual and the book is well written :)

Thumbs up yet again.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but maybe a bit laboured at times 5 Oct 2013
By M. Bull
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A great book which makes some nice points about the nature of designing for complexity.

However it feels a little too long and rambling at times. In particular the first couple of chapters really labour the point about the difference between complexity (lots of things are complex by their nature) and being complicated (things only seem complicated if they're badly designed). It was as if the author really wanted to hammer home the central premise of the book early on in the fear that otherwise you might not understand. The irony of course is that this makes a not very complex concept seem somehow complicated...

That said this is a good, entertaining, and thought-provoking book which is well worth a read by anyone interested in design.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Tough read 15 Feb 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've read a few Norman books and I can say with no hesitation - they are all a tough read but if you can leave it for a while and pick it up again - there is always valuable information to be harvested from his work
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4.0 out of 5 stars Great inspiration 17 Mar 2014
By Nima
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Great book! Used it in my 3. semester project. Don't eat all the stuff that this guys says in the book without a bit of consideration and criticism, but use it as inspiration.
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