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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.

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: 23 x 15 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 933,256 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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4.0 out of 5 stars At last! A breath of sanity in the PC world 3 Nov 1998
By A Customer
You know how it is; you know there's something wrong and you can articulate some of the problems but the whole thing never adds up to a really convincing proposition; you've probably missed the real conclusion? Well never fear. If you think there's something fundamentally wrong with the PC or its user interface this is the book you need to read.
Don Norman has written a couple of the truly useful books on user interface design and human cognition as it applies to the field and this I would class as his masterpiece. Finally he admits that it is not just the UI that's messed up on PCs but actually that it is beyond fixing. He identifies what's wrong; why it's wrong and offers information appliances as the new way to go. Better than that he even tells you why the industry itself cannot fix the problem - it is immanent to the machine AND to the industry.
With insightful examples Don Norman exposes the basic flaws of our wonderful technology based world, strips bare the economic or business model that underpins it and offers us a way forward.
Read this book, get all of your friends to read this book, tell everyone you know about this book. And then see how you can ride Don's new way forward to riches and respect.
I would have given this book a 5 had the editors done a better job - they still let the academic background seep through and too often allow what should be a reinforcement of a point to be no more than a repetition. Someone needs totell publishers in the IT field that small books can contain big ideas. Less words - more impact.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Valuable insights but a bit verbose 23 Nov 1998
By A Customer
While I fully agree with the thrust of Don Norman's book and find it entertaining and easy to follow, I also think it is somewhat verbose - but perhaps I am already too familar with many of the usability arguments. There are many reiterations. At times you think, when the hell will he get to the point? On page 4 you read: "For my purposes, the story of Thomas Alva Edison is the most relevant; he played a major role in many of those early information industries.." (yes yes go ahead); a few paragraphs later you read "Edisons's story is a great place to start. In many ways, Edison invented the high-technology industry.." - this is what sends me into skimming and skipping mode. You are beginning to suspect the book hasn't quite received the final trim. Nevertheless, well worth reading.
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By A Customer
A very good book, in a very easy to read style. The author makes a number of good points about why PCs are such pigs to use. I've personally always felt that PC stood for "pig computer". I have always believed that where we are today with computers is where the automobile was in the early 1900's. Back then, you had to be part machinist, part chemist, part electrician, part mechanic, to run and keep your auto running. Today, you have to be part OS expert, part networking expert, part hardware hack, and part wizard to run and keep your computer running. The author uses a number of excellent models to show in the past how technology has disappeared to make our lives easier today. Thanks for a very good book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Scribbled and folded pages
Book is NOT in the promised good condition.
Folded pages and pen scribbles in many places.
The book has a folding mark.
Published 12 months ago by Maria Silva
1.0 out of 5 stars The item was never delivered
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... Read more
Published on 5 April 2012 by Hugo Castanho
2.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly boring but got me through my course
In common with both of his that books I've had to read as part of my multimedia technology course The invisible Computer is a long winded and repetative account of how the world of... Read more
Published on 20 Jan 2000 by Exmonkey
2.0 out of 5 stars Way too long for the central argument
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. Read more
Published on 30 Mar 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Suitfeed
Yeah, right. Edison didn't know what he was doing because he wasn't "customer centered" enough to make flat records. Read more
Published on 17 Feb 1999
2.0 out of 5 stars Great topic, weak execution
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... Read more
Published on 10 Feb 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Best for its explanation of infrastructure goods
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... Read more
Published on 28 Jan 1999
3.0 out of 5 stars Perhaps the weakest book by an excellent author
Much of what Norman says in "The Invisible Computer" needs to be said, and based on his earlier work, I expected it to be said clearly. Read more
Published on 2 Dec 1998
5.0 out of 5 stars Well-argued perspectives on the future of PC design
Donald Norman offers a no-holds-barred attack on the present state of personal computer design and marketing. Read more
Published on 1 Nov 1998
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