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The Design of Everyday Things

The Design of Everyday Things - Donald A. Norman This book has several very important ideas:

* Even if you aren't professional designer, you still use design everywhere in your life, including how you design your house, your resume, a report, some code, etc.

* Design is all about focusing on people's needs and abilities. You may think you know what those are by the virtue of being a human, but you don't, as most human actions are unconscious. Therefore, to be a good designer, you need to learn some psychology.

* Good design is all about finding the root cause (not just the stated problem) and using an iterative process (there are no failures, just experiments).

* Many of the things we attribute to human error are actually caused by poor design. This is because humans make mistakes _all the time_ and a good design _must_ take this into account.

For these alone, it's worth reading. That said, the book feels a little unfocused and scatter brained. It frequently goes off on tangents, most of which are interesting, but not always relevant to the main points. The book is also repetitive, repeating the same message about bad design, constraints, and culture over and over again.


Some good quotes:

Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible, serving us without drawing attention to itself. Bad design, on the other hand, screams out its inadequacies, making itself very noticeable.

We are all designers in the sense that all of us deliberately design our lives, our rooms, and the way we do things. We can also design workarounds, ways of overcoming the flaws of existing devices.

Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure out what actions are possible and where and how to perform them? Understanding: What does it all mean? How is the product supposed to be used? What do all the different controls and settings mean?

All artificial things are designed. Whether it is the layout of furniture in a room, the paths through a garden or forest, or the intricacies of an electronic device, some person or group of people had to decide upon the layout, operation, and mechanisms. Not all designed things involve physical structures. Services, lectures, rules and procedures, and the organizational structures of businesses and governments do not have physical mechanisms, but their rules of operation have to be designed, sometimes informally, sometimes precisely recorded and specified.

Human-centered design is a design philosophy. It means starting with a good understanding of people and the needs that the design is intended to meet. This understanding comes about primarily through observation, for people themselves are often unaware of their true needs, even unaware of the difficulties they are encountering. Getting the specification of the thing to be defined is one of the most difficult parts of the design, so much so that the HCD principle is to avoid specifying the problem as long as possible but instead to iterate upon repeated approximations. This is done through rapid tests of ideas, and after each test modifying the approach and the problem definition. The results can be products that truly meet the needs of people.

A conceptual model is an explanation, usually highly simplified, of how something works. It doesn’t have to be complete or even accurate as long as it is useful.

When people use something, they face two gulfs: the Gulf of Execution, where they try to figure out how it operates, and the Gulf of Evaluation, where they try to figure out what happened [...] The role of the designer is to help people bridge the two gulfs.

We bridge the Gulf of Execution through the use of signifiers, constraints, mappings, and a conceptual model. We bridge the Gulf of Evaluation through the use of feedback and a conceptual model.

Most of us start by believing we already understand both human behavior and the human mind. After all, we are all human: we have all lived with ourselves all of our lives, and we like to think we understand ourselves. But the truth is, we don’t. Most of human behavior is a result of subconscious processes. We are unaware of them.

When we speak, we often do not know what we are about to say until our conscious mind (the reflective part of the mind) hears ourselves uttering the words.

When we perform a well-learned action, all we have to do is think of the goal and the behavioral level handles all the details: the conscious mind has little or no awareness beyond creating the desire to act.

We need to remove the word failure from our vocabulary, replacing it instead with learning experience. To fail is to learn: we learn more from our failures than from our successes. With success, sure, we are pleased, but we often have no idea why we succeeded. With failure, it is often possible to figure out why, to ensure that it will never happen again.
Scientists know this. Scientists do experiments to learn how the world works. Sometimes their experiments work as expected, but often they don’t. Are these failures? No, they are learning experiences. Many of the most important scientific discoveries have come from these so-called failures.

Eliminate all error messages from electronic or computer systems. Instead, provide help and guidance.

Humans err continually; it is an intrinsic part of our nature. System design should take this into account.

Eliminate the term human error. Instead, talk about communication and interaction: what we call an error is usually bad communication or interaction. When people collaborate with one another, the word error is never used to characterize another person’s utterance. That’s because each person is trying to understand and respond to the other, and when something is not understood or seems inappropriate, it is questioned, clarified, and the collaboration continues. Why can’t the interaction between a person and a machine be thought of as collaboration?

Our strengths are in our flexibility and creativity, in coming up with solutions to novel problems. We are creative and imaginative, not mechanical and precise. Machines require precision and accuracy; people don’t. And we are particularly bad at providing precise and accurate inputs. So why are we always required to do so? Why do we put the requirements of machines above those of people?

Seven fundamental principles of design:
1. Discoverability. It is possible to determine what actions are possible and the current state of the device.
2. Feedback.There is full and continuous information about the results of actions and the current state of the product or service. After an action has been executed, it is easy to determine the new state.
3. Conceptual model. The design projects all the information needed to create a good conceptual model of the system, leading to understanding and a feeling of control. The conceptual model enhances both discoverability and evaluation of results.
4. Affordances. The proper affordances exist to make the desired actions possible.
5. Signifiers.Effective use of signifiers ensures discoverability and that the feedback is well communicated and intelligible.
6. Mappings. The relationship between controls and their actions follows the principles of good mapping, enhanced as much as possible through spatial layout and temporal contiguity.
7. Constraints. Providing physical, logical, semantic, and cultural constraints guides actions and eases interpretation.

Never criticize unless you have a better alternative.

When people err, change the system so that type of error will be reduced or eliminated. When complete elimination is not possible, redesign to reduce the impact.

When many people all have the same problem, shouldn’t another cause be found? If the system lets you make the error, it is badly designed. And if the system induces you to make the error, then it is really badly designed. When I turn on the wrong stove burner, it is not due to my lack of knowledge: it is due to poor mapping between controls and burners. Teaching me the relationship will not stop the error from recurring: redesigning the stove will.

Why do people err? Because the designs focus upon the requirements of the system and the machines, and not upon the requirements of people. Most machines require precise commands and guidance, forcing people to enter numerical information perfectly. But people aren’t very good at great precision. We frequently make errors when asked to type or write sequences of numbers or letters. This is well known: so why are machines still being designed that require such great precision, where pressing the wrong key can lead to horrendous results?

In many industries, the rules are written more with a goal toward legal compliance than with an understanding of the work requirements. As a result, if workers followed the rules, they couldn’t get their jobs done.

Good designers never start by trying to solve the problem given to them: they start by trying to understand what the real issues are.

Don Norman's Law of Product Development: The day a product development process starts, it is behind schedule and above budget.

Good designers are quick learners, for today they might be asked to design a camera; tomorrow, to design a transportation system or a company’s organizational structure. How can one person work across so many different domains? Because the fundamental principles of designing for people are the same across all domains. People are the same, and so the design principles are the same.

Every modern innovation, especially the ones that significantly change lives, takes multiple decades to move from concept to company success A rule of thumb is twenty years from first demonstrations in research laboratories to commercial product, and then a decade or two from first commercial release to widespread adoption. Except that actually, most innovations fail completely and never reach the public.