Review: The Design of Everyday Things

I’ve recently read a great book, recommended by Merlin Rebrovic in one of his blog posts. I’ve always seen design as something abstract, something you need to be born to, and avoided it like the plague, not being born for it was the main excuse. However, after seeing that it is not really that hard and that you can learn design, I started to read a lot about it. I’m not an expert (yet), and I don’t see myself doing design professionally, at least not soon, but learning new and unexplored things brings me pleasure, and stepping out of your small box is great, because there is a whole world out there.

The Design of Everyday Things, a book by Don Norman, is a great intro into the world of design. And by that I mean industrial design. How to create products that people can use with ease and are nice to look at. I’ve read only the second edition of the book, which was updated to accompany the computerised, mobile world we live in now.
The book has plenty of examples of good and bad design choices, with the masochist teapot on the cover being one of the funniest. You will learn how design can help reduce the number of airplane accidents, and pretty much all accidents, where enough knowledge to operate something isn’t in the world, but required to be in the head. You can see a nice comparison of head vs. world knowledge here.
Badly designed products are all around us, and sometimes we don’t even notice them. It’s mainly because we have learned to cope with our stove where the burner to knob mapping isn’t that obvious. Maybe we have some exotic faucet in the bathroom, which is so clear to us, but guests tend to have issues operating a simple (or not so simple) faucet. Sometimes people who design these things are inexperienced, and wanting to make the prettiest looking faucet, not thinking of its usability, and putting too much knowledge in the head. Who want’s to read a 5 page manual just to be able to wash their hands? I know I don’t.
But nevertheless we buy those things, sometimes they are so stunning, and we just need to have them, not thinking about the usability. Sometimes we are on a budget, and we buy the things we can.
Sometimes the issue is in the production costs. It’s one thing to design a great product in a fancy 3D design tool, where only sky is the limit, and completely another to produce that thing, market it, and sell it at a price the market is willing to pay. Those design examples are limited to high-end products, where Apple comes to mind, or Bang & Olufsen, but their products aren’t really affordable to regular people.
Maybe if the people realised what a badly designed product is, they wouldn’t buy it, and the manufacturer would have to redesign it, because the competition has a product that is perfectly designed. But sadly we can’t hope for this to happen. Low budget, poorly designed products will always have a market, because people can’t spend enough for a quality product, and novelty items, made only to praise the visual design and not usability will always find their buyer among the people that need to have that fancy something, that no one can and will use for it’s intended purpose.
This book has opened my eyes to the crimes we developer often do against usability and design. It also pushed me in the direction of exploring user experience and design, in general. Hopefully, this will be a fun journey.

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