"He Wears Black and Has a Beard"

Review: The Design of Everyday Things

Toby Roworth

Jul 21, 2014

If I could summarise my four year Design degree in one book, this would be it. Don Norman, or "The Don" as I like to call him, is quite simply a genius, covering many key principles of design over the three hundred pages of the book.
As with many of my book reviews, I’ve not gone into great depth — there’s a whole internet for that, and they’ll do a much better job than me. Instead I’ve highlighted the key bits I think you need to know, along with a hearty recommendation of buy this book!
The Design of Everyday Things is a fairly recent rewrite of The Psychology of Everyday Things, bringing it up-to-date with the developments if the last 25 years.
The first half of the book is fairly deep (for someone who did a "colouring in" degree) psychology, explaining how people build mental models of products and how they interact with them. However, it's written in an easygoing manner, with plenty of examples of real-world problems, many of which I've been complaining about for years — such as doors with confusing push/pull handles.
What makes this work is that he both points out the flaws in many products and gives adequate information to create a solution, often suggesting one himself.
He then continues into explaining errors in product usage, and how these are almost always the designers fault. You may remember similar sentiments from my [rant on phone cases]. This chapter has been invaluable in explaining to engineers why design is so important, and so much more than just making things look pretty.
After discussing the ideal world of design for several chapters, the last few chapters take the reader back to the real world, and explain how perfect product design can fall foul to marketing people, business people and commercial people, but also how these are the very people needed for a product to succeed.
Every designer should read this book — when I come to power this will be the law. And everyone else should read this book too, just in case they ever need to design something.