“The Design of Everyday Things” previously known as “The Psychology of Everyday Things” is a must read for any person who designs and makes things: all things. Its title may scare people off as being a book for graphic designers or industrial engineers, both sets of whom must read this nevertheless, but in fact any person responsible for designing and implementing things should read this.
The book starts off by explaining its raison d’etre: why would such a book be needed, if everything was smartly and nicely designed? The author goes on to list items that you would never think would need any mental processing of how to use them; enter “The Norman Door!” Who would have difficulty opening a door? The author gives examples of how doors could be designed in a very poor way such that people would push doors that should be pulled, pull doors that should be pushed or even in one case get locked into a rotating door! Quite simply, as the book begs the readers to believe, a user should not think of how to open a door, and more generally should not need to think how to use any other object. It also emphasizes that usable things do not necessarily need to be ugly; on the contrary, the best things are those whose elegance is the soul of their usability.
The book gets scientific on the psychological side, explaining how users (of things, not of drugs) behave, think, and use things; from the process of realizing what and how something should be used to concepts such as mental models (what the user believes is happening), the author explains the steps that go through the human mind causing a person to achieve his/her target or to err. The psychological explanation could get detailed beyond interest to some (like all the kinds of errors out there), however, it never gets too technical for the regular reader to understand. On the contrary, the author accompanies every concept with real live examples, many of which we have went through, that make it easier to comprehend what is he is going about.
The style of the book is quite witty, and Dr. Norman often uses the first person during the book. This makes reading it quite enjoyable while learning a lot about human behavior. His style is rich, and although scientific is quite animated. If any criticism is to be given to the book, it would be about some obsolete examples. The book was initially written in 1988; however, a newer edition was printed, in which the title itself was changed. That should have been complemented by some updating of the content: cell phones and microwaves for example are nowhere to be seen. Be that as it may, the book is a must read as it gives its readers new perspective and a new way too look at things.
Dr. Donald Norman is a god when it comes to issues of usability and human cognitive skills. He is a co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, a power house of usability training and research.