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The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer is So Complex and Information Appliances are the Solution [Paperback]

Donald Norman
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
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Book Description

30 Sep 1999
Technologies have a life cycle, says Donald Norman, and companies and their products must change as they pass from youth to maturity. Alas, the computer industry thinks it is still in its rebellious teenage years, exulting in technical complexity. Customers want change. They are ready for products that offer convenience, ease of use, and pleasure. The technology should be invisible, hidden from sight.In this book, Norman shows why the computer is so difficult to use and why this complexity is fundamental to its nature. The only answer, says Norman, is to start over again, to develop information appliances that fit people's needs and lives. To do this companies must change the way they develop products. They need to start with an understanding of people: user needs first, technology last--the opposite of how things are done now. Companies need a human-centered development process, even if it means reorganizing the entire company. This book shows how.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 316 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; New edition edition (30 Sep 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262640414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262640411
  • Product Dimensions: 22.7 x 15.2 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 319,047 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

While Donald Norman acknowledges in The Invisible Computer that the personal computer allows for "flexibility and power," he also makes its limitations perfectly clear. Currently, computer users must navigate a sea of guidebooks, frequently asked questions (FAQs), and wizards to perform a task such as searching the Web or creating a spreadsheet. "The personal computer is perhaps the most frustrating technology ever," he writes. "It should be quiet, invisible, unobtrusive." His vision is that of the "information appliance", digital tools created to answer our specific needs, yet interconnected to allow communication between devices.

His solution? "Design the tool to fit so well that the tool becomes a part of the task." He proposes using the PC as the infrastructure for devices hidden in walls, in car dashboards, and held in the palm of the hand. A word of caution: some of Norman's zealotry leads to a certain creepiness (global positioning body implants) and goofiness (electric-power-generating plants in shoes). His message, though, is reasonably situated in the concept that the tools should bend to fit us and our goals: we sit down to write, not to word process; to balance bank accounts, not to fill in cells on a spreadsheet. In evenly measuring out the future of humanity's technological needs--and the limitations of the PC's current incarnation--Norman presents a formidable argument for a renaissance of the information appliance. --Jennifer Buckendorff


"Don Norman's dramatic transformation from design critic to digitaldesigner has made his observations in The Invisible Computer even more insightful and inciteful." Michael Schrage , Research Associate, MIT Media Lab, and authorof Getting Real "Don Norman has established himself as high technology's leadingthinker on user interfaces and on why PCs are too complex."-- Wall Street Journal "... the bible of 'post-PC' thinking."-- Business Week

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
His basic argument in this book is that the computer industry has matured to the point where it can no longer just cater to the early-adopter technologists and must appeal to the masses to continue growth. Unfortunately, the industry doesn't know how to do this and continues to deliver technology for technology's sake, leading to fat computers and technology that aren't that useful or appealing to most people, and are beginning to exhaust the technologists too. He introduces some recent, but standard models of technology adoption for discussing the problems, customer-centered design in cross-disciplinary teams (marketing, engineering, and user experience) for designing products that transcend the problems (explicitly discussing Contextual Design a few times), and "information appliances," multitudes of small, task-focused technology products that will replace our big, cumbersome, general-purpose (but not great at any) PCs.
Norman's forte is definitely cognitive and experimental psychology in product design, and not being a technological or product development process visionary. I found very little new or interesting content in the book, and I don't think he articulated even some of the derived ideas very well. The whole book could have been condensed into a long magazine article. His prose is wordy and redundant, and the book is regrettfully lacking in many of the detailed case studies and examples he's used in previous books to elucidate his ideas. I want the idiosyncratic and outspoken psychologist professor back, such as he was in The Design of Everyday Things, or the powerful academic argument of Things That Make Us Smart.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Read the introduction and the appendix 16 Dec 1998
By A Customer
The book is persuasive in its central argument that today's PC is overgrown, difficult to use, and suffers from its fundamental architecture as a multipurpose device. The point is made adequately in the introduction and first chapter, however, and the rest of the meat of he book just belabors the point, often repeating the same points in the exact same words.
The appendix on examples of information appliances is fun, though, as he finally gets to what he thinks will be the next generation of devices to replace the PC.
Also, I sometimes found his arguments about market forces and the business model of the technology industry simplistic, even naive. I found it hard to believe at times that he worked at Apple all those years.
Still, I enjoyed skimming it.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Way too long for the central argument 30 Mar 1999
By A Customer
Donald Norman seems to have taken up a position like that of Eric S. Raymond of Open Source, but in usability. This is a business-argument pitch for information appliances. It draws very heavily in its early chapters from the book "Inside the Tornado", I think by Moore.Inside the Tornado was a book adopted as Marketing Bible by my previous employer, an entrepreneurial venture in the digital imaging industry that may yet sink, but not because of the book. Inside the Tornado is right, but if you've absorbed it, you'll be irritated with the first half of this book.For people who read and appreciated his earlier books and are looking for interesting theoretical or experimental stuff on or near the topic of cognitive science will be disappointed. Don't buy this book for that reason.If you have only a weak grasp of information appliances, what they are, and why they're good, you will want to read this book.I wish someone else wrote this book, though.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Scribbled and folded pages 12 Aug 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Book is NOT in the promised good condition.
Folded pages and pen scribbles in many places.
The book has a folding mark.
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1.0 out of 5 stars The item was never delivered 5 April 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I've made multiple book orders from different shops, and AwesomeBooks was the ONLY ONE that sent me this message 4 months after i made the purchase:

The book was returned to us by the postal carrier with explanation 'Not called for'.
This indicates the postman attempted delivery but was unable to reach you when someone was home.

The postal carrier didn't called me, emailed me or anything.
All books bought in other shops were delivered except the one bought here. I will never buy anything from AwesomeBooks anymore.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Great topic, weak execution 10 Feb 1999
By A Customer
I have greatly enjoyed and valued some of the author's previous work and ordered multiple copies of "The Invisible Computer" as soon as I heard about it in order to share with my colleagues. After reading the book twice (I was certain I had missed something the first time) I was disappointed in the quality of the arguments presented and lack of substance. The basic tenet - that computer should be submerged into our environment and serve highly specialized functions - cannot be disputed. I found the discussion of substitutable and non-substitutable items interesting and the most useful portion of the text.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Best for its explanation of infrastructure goods 28 Jan 1999
By A Customer
The historical case studies are fascinating -- but the best chapter, in my opinion, has little to do with "information appliances" and much to do with the nature of monopoly systems.
I'm educated as an economist and found Norman's descriptions of an infrastructure market (historically the 'natural' monopoly market of power and telephone companies) a compelling read -- and a must read for anyone following the DOJ-MSFT trial.
While I agree with his premise that the machines need to become 'simple to use' -- I'm still having trouble seeing lots of individual "appliances." However, I think the iMac may have captured some of Norman's philosophies.
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