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4.4 out of 5 stars65
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 3 May 1999
You read this book and then you think aha! - thats why I have trouble with my door/kettle/car. Norman manages to inform the reader with interesting examples, backed up by years of research.
One of the easiest ways to sell good design and usability is by showing people what happens if you don't invest enough time and resources. This book provides ample ammunition to any designers who are confronted with clients who require educating, as well as a design solution.
Why not 5 stars? - well, the book could be longer.
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on 15 January 1999
An enlightening and often entertaining critique on the inadaquacies of designed objects and systems based on the seminal "The Psychology of Everyday Things" (1988). Norman is scathing of design which is not user centred unleasing exceptional scorn on the designers of door handles and light switches. Even these simple systems are poorly designed, he argues, so how are users expected to operate infinitely more complex systems?
Norman exposes some simple guidelines for ensuring usable design which make one wonder why they appear to be so frequently ignored in comtemporary design.
This book is not only a must for design students, it is essential for even senior designers and managers involved with design.
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on 19 April 2006
It's an exceptional book, so why have I given it only 4 stars?

Certainly not the books fault, but this book does tend to get recommended to students as the definitive book for software interface design.

The book is quite dated, being just a renamed reprint of 1989 book "The Psychology of Everyday Things", identical content, except with a new foreword.

The insight into the flawed design of everyday objects is amazing, but could have been so much better if instead of just updating the foreword new chapters were added dealing with modern issues (computers, satellite tv, mobile phones, etc).

Reading this book will still make high tech designers better, but don't expect it to be as relevant to you as it was to your lecturer who read it 17 years ago.
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on 1 May 2009
Norman provides very insightful views on why many everyday things are so infuriating to use. His examples range from inscrutable button-filled remote controls to shower faucets where you can't tell hot from cold, and he gives a simple yet effective set of guidelines on how to make things usable. He does all this with simple jargon-free language, only occasionally dipping into cognitive psychology, making the book easy to read for people who are more interested in design principles than psychology.

That said, the book is a bit dated, with references to the Mac Lisa, the NES, the Bell telephone and buildings and furniture designed in the 70's. It sorely needs an update, to show how the situation has improved: idiot-proof and color-coded connectors are standard in almost all electronics nowadays, auto-volt adaptors means we don't have to worry about burning electronics, plug-and-play and software wizards makes DIP switches and hacking at configuration files a thing of the past (unless you are a masochist or use Linux); and how they stay the same: different proprietary power connectors for cellphones (sometimes from different models of the same manufacturer, even with the same voltage!), ditto for memory cards, mobile phone and mp3 player user interfaces that seem to want to reinvent everything from scratch (and get it wrong) with every model released, the one button interface that behaves differently on how long you press it and scratch-filled screens (it's as if the designers never thought we'd put their _pocket-sized_ devices in our actual pockets!).

That said, it's still a necessary read for anyone designing an application UI or a webpage, or just about anyone else who has screamed at the designer of a shower faucet that you just can't turn when your hands are soapy.
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on 19 January 2001
This was recommended reading for my undergraduate Psychology degree. It changed my life. In light of the book I changed lanes and decided to follow a career in user experience. I am now at the end of my doctorate in Human Computer Interaction and loving it.
Interestingly, most of my undergraduate colleagues decided on a different career path,but still rate this book as one of their favourites. You will never look at the world in the same way after you have read this book. It is truly inspiring...
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on 11 April 2002
This book has very little if anything to do with software design, or even door handle to tap design. These examples are given purely to demonstrate what the book is really about, which the Design of the human brain. Although he talks a lot about the physical objects around us, he continually refers back to why the objects are the way they are and how the human brain makes decisions about how it will interact will them. He is trying to explain that the design of objects does not exist in isolation. An object is not in itself functional. It becomes functional when it begins to interact with its surroundings, and that interaction is frequently with humans. As well as interacting physically with objects, human must interact psychologically with them, although this psychological is frequently (and often should be) sub conscious. Understanding the nature of these subconscious psychological interaction with our surrounding's is what this book is about, and it's very interesting, often amusing, and despite the dodgy 1970's photos, it will be timeless.
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on 12 January 2010
Mixture of popular account and technical detail sit oddly together. Some powerful insights about why some products/designs don't work, but not enough detailed analyst to be really useful to a designer, and yet too much to be compelling to a casual reader or to constitute a statement of a philosophy.

Also curiously dated, though in a way more interesting for that - a relic from the pre-broadband, pre-smartphone world. It's interesting how some of the 'hard constraints' that he perceives have just melted away with more processing power and bandwidth - he fantasises over the thought of a PDA not nearly as powerful as the smartphone in my pocket at the moment, and complains that online information services are constrained by bandwidth and cost limitations - Google search is simply beyond his imagining, in 1988. Wonder what similar blunders we are making now...
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on 18 September 2013
I really like this book, even though it is a bit outdated.

I love the mindset and the thinking of Don Norman and I feel like he could have written a new book with concepts and examples from the World today, since the world has become a whole lot more technological and digital than it was before. I would have given this book 5 stars if I would have read it at the time it was published, maybe I would have been more mindblown back then.

But this is a great book for design students who want to really understand what design and usability is and how to approach it with an open mind.
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on 15 May 2010
Not at all a how-to handbook, but a reading that should (and will) change your point of view when addressing engineering issues related with users.

Best thing to say about it is that 32 years after its first edition, the content is as current as it was then. Examples may have been expanded and updated, but maybe we would miss the most important lesson: user experience is something that we must have in mind because it's essential to using tools --not a "new techies fad" at all.

The book is especially aimed to engineers, designers and analists, but Project managers should read it, too.
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on 30 December 2010
This book is obviously about design and everyday things, like doors, taps and electr(on)ic equipment, but it's also about psychology and not so everyday things, like museums, aircraft and nuclear power plants etc. If you're only mildly interested in these topics, then this book might be a bit "heavy" for you, but if you're really interested in them, it's a classic, that is on the mandatory reading list of many design schools. Personally, I originally wanted to be a car designer, so I really enjoyed it! In fact, from now on, I think I will remember this book, every time I encounter things that are designed very well, or very badly!

Basically, the book is an almost emotional plea for design, based on usability, as opposed to aesthetics (the statement "it probably won a design prize" is not a compliment in this book!) and cost (of materials, manufacturing etc). These factors are also important, but they matter more to the manufacturers and the (often corporate) customers of the product, than the ultimate user, and what's the *use* of a product that the user doesn't know how to use?

Designing for usability is probably more complex than you think, even for something as small and seemingly simple as a ballpoint pen. We could overcome this complexity if we could learn from our mistakes, but the multiple forces of a competitive market often prevent this process of evolutionary design. As a result, the same mistakes get made over and over again, and new ones are constantly added too, often on the back of new technologies, which are actually supposed to make our lives easier! Norman calls this "the paradox of technology".

To overcome this, Norman proposes "seven principles for transforming difficult tasks into simple ones":

1. "Use both knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head." The design of the object should help the user to form a good "conceptual model" or "mental map" of how it works, preferably without instruction labels (if it needs them, it's probably not designed very well) or the user manual, because most users don't read them anyway. A great example of an often misunderstood object is the thermostat. Many people don't understand that this is a simple on/off switch with a single speed. If they want to heat up a room asap, they turn the thermostat to the maximum temperature, but this doesn't make it go any faster. On the contrary, you risk overheating the room and having to cool it down again!
2. "Simplify the structure of tasks." Don't rely on the user to remember too many things at once, because our memory is limited.
3. "Make things visible: bridge the gulfs of Execution and Evaluation." Make it obvious which actions the user can/should take, and provide feedback when he/she has taken that action.
4. "Get the mappings right." The left switch is for the left light, the right switch is for the right one.
5. "Exploit the power of constraints, both natural and artificial." If you don't want people to insert the battery the wrong way, then make sure it doesn't fit that way. This is a physical constraint, but there are also semantic, cultural and logical ones.
6. "Design for error." Errors are not bad, they are normal! Design things in such a way that trivial errors are easily reversed ("undo") and serious errors are avoided in the first place.
7. "When all else fails, standardize." Think of the round clock-face, the QWERTY keyboard, turn a screw clockwise to tighten it etc.

The other thing I found really interesting was the relationship between usability and aesthetics. On one hand, something that looks very complicated probably isn't very easy to use, but on the other hand, "easy looking is not necessarily easy to use (...) We found that 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. How can these conflicting requirements be met simultaneously? Hide the controls not being used at the moment. By using a panel on which only the relevant controls are visible, you minimize the appearance of complexity. By having a separate control for each function, you minimize the complexity of use. It is possible to eat your cake and have it, too." This is one of the things Bang & Olufsen does very well, for example, and Normal actually uses an example of B&O in the book.

In summary, I can understand why this is a "must read" for designers, even though it was originally published back in 1988, because the seven principles are basically timeless. My only "buts" are:

1. I think the book could have been structured more clearly, which is of course ironic, considering it's a book about design and it actually includes a discussion about the structuring of writing material! I sometimes got a little bit "lost" in the text and I would have preferred to see the seven principles in the table of contents. A bit dull maybe, but very usable ;o)

2. I would love to see Norman apply his principles to some of the new technologies that have appeared and gone mainsteam between then and now. I've just found his follow-up book, called The Design of Future Things, but I'm not sure that's quite what I had in mind ;o)

Your comments are welcome!
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