Chapter 1- Design of Everyday Things

Updated: Apr 1, 2019

Chapter Title:

The Psychopathology of Everyday Things by Don Norman

Reading Notes


Norman Door: a poor design with unnecessary troubles.

Important characteristics of good design: Discoverability and Understanding

  • Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure 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?

Whether the device is a door or a stove, a mobile phone, or a nuclear plant, the relevant components must be visible, and they must communicate the correct message: what actions are possible? where and how should they be done? Natural indication vs labels: a vertical plate or supporting pillars are natural signals, naturally interpreted, making it easy to know just what to do: no labels needed.

Manuals and Instructions: are accepted for complex devices, but it should be unnecessary for simple things. Many products defy understanding simply because they have too many functions and controls. Simple home appliances such as stoves, and washing machines should not look like Hollywood's spaceship.


Design is concerned with how things work, how they are controlled, and the nature of the interaction between people and technology. Interaction Designers emphasize understandability and usability, while Experience Designers emphasize the emotional impact and quality of enjoyment of the the product design.

"Engineers are trained to think logically. As a result, they come to believe that all people must think this way...the problem with the designs of most engineers is that they are too logical. We have to accept human behaviors the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be."

We must design our machine on the assumption that people will make errors. Ch5 provides a detailed analysis of human error.


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 the difficulties they're encountering.

HCD principle is to avoid specifying the problem as long as possible, but instead to iterate upon repeated approximations (means: anything that is similar, but not exactly equal, to something else.) This is done through rapid tests of ideas, and after each test modifying the approach and the problem definition. Ch6 examines the challenge of doing HCD within time and budget, etc.


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