Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things — Two Keys: Discoverability & Understanding

Do you have your own “one of these days” book stacks? I do. Actually, I have a few such stacks. They include escapist books, some fiction (should include more), and books “I should have read by now.”

Design of Everyday ThingsWell, I’m dipping into one of those books. I’ve read about this book in a lot of places. It is kind of legendary. It is The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. I’m definitely finding it a fun read. But, also, a book I agree with.

Here’s the point – things should be designed for ease of use. He refers to two traits:

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?

And, here’s a descriptive passage:

I don’t think that simple home appliances – stoves, washing machines, audio and television sets – should look like Hollywood’s idea of a spaceship control room.

I think of my remote control. Take a good look at it…

Can you figure out what each of these buttons are for?
Can you figure out what each of these buttons are for?



And, here is a line from Norman’s book that is absolutely true about my own practice:

Faced with a bewildering array of controls and displays we simply memorize one or two fixed settings to approximate what is desired.

Now, what do we do with this insight? If you are in the “thing” producing business, especially an “everyday thing,” this is probably a book to read. As he states, “all artificial things are designed.” Think hard about the “things” you design. Make the design easy to understand, easy to use, and don’t forget the idea of convenience.

Is your web site easy to navigate? Can a person tell where to hit the next “click” or tap without much searching?

Just do a “design inventory.” Look at everything you communicate, offer, make. (Yes, good communication is effectively designed). Are you practicing good design?

Pay attention to design. That’s the real issue. And the design has to be accessible, understandable — for the average person to figure out and use easily.

There are plenty other books in my “one of these days” stacks. I wonder what I will be thinking about in my next discovery.


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