Category: What I’m Reading

What I’m Reading: The Design of Everyday Things

What I’m Reading: The Design of Everyday Things

The Design of Everyday Things, by Don Norman, the Revised and Expanded Edition

My Thoughts

Oh where to begin with this book. I loved it so much I read it twice. The first time in a fascinated way, and the second carefully with a highlighter in hand. This book was life changing. Especially from a place of wanting to be a user advocate. I can claim life changing because, really understanding the concept that “users are not stupid, its just that somethings are poorly designed” has been incredibly freeing. It has changed my outlook about how I interact with the world of things around me. My level of frustration with particular software systems decreased immediately when I realized that not understanding, or remembering, or being able to find how to do something was not a failure on my part, but a design flaw. I started seeing the self blaming tendency in everyone around me; when people can’t figure out how to use the soap dispenser in the bathroom, when someone can’t figure out how to change the settings on their phone, when I can’t use the online system to make a doctors appointment! People blame themselves- I’m stupid, I’m too old, I must be doing something wrong- when really the design is to blame. I’ve spent the last several months going around pointing out design flaws and letting people know they are not to blame.

What I’m taking away:

The Design of Everyday Things is jam-packed with information that designers who really care about their users need to understand.

Discoverability and Understanding

Norman writes that the “two most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding.” What an object, item, or program tells you about what, where, and how to perform an action is discoverability. Knowing what to do with those actions, the why, is understanding.

According to Norman there are 6 psychological concepts that lead to discoverability:

  • Affordances: perceivable and invisible possibilities of interaction
  • Signifiers: signs, labels, drawings, diagrams, symbols
  • Constraints: physical, logical, semantic and cultural limits that guide action
  • Mappings: relationship between elements
  • Feedback: communicating the result of an action
  • Conceptual Model: highly simplified explanation of how something works

Understanding Error

Although there a myriad of ways in which errors occur, mostly they occur because users are expected to behave in unnatural ways. We need to design not just for the alert, attentive, focused user, but for the tired, the bored, the interrupted.

Slips and mistakes are two different types of errors:

  • Slips: the wrong action is performed- either action based– the wrong action is performed, or a memory lapse the action is forgotten.
  • Mistakes: wrong goal is established- either rule based– deciding on the wrong course of action, knowledge based- wrong or incomplete knowledge, and memory lapse- forgetting goals or plans.

Designers should design with error in mind- making actions reversible, giving users feedback or error messages when error occurs. Don’t require users to keep all the knowledge perform an action in their head, “assist rather than punish or scold.”

Human Centered Design Process

Norman details the Iterative Cycle of Human Centered Design as having four activities repeated over and over.

  • Observation: research about the users- observe to understand motives and true needs of users.
  • Idea Generation: generate numerous, creative, potential solutions without regard for constraints.
  • Prototyping: build mock-ups and sketches.
  • Testing: get users and see how they use your prototypes.

“A usable design starts with careful observations of how the tasks being supported are actually performed, followed by a design process that results in a good fit to the actual ways the tasks get performed.”

-Don Norman

Who should read this book?

Everyone interested in the world of things should read this book. Especially those designing, funding, marketing, and or conceiving of solutions to our interactions with the world around us. I must admit, I’m likely to read it for a third time!

What I’m Reading: Don’t Make Me Think

What I’m Reading: Don’t Make Me Think

Don’t Make Me Think- Revisited a Common Sense Approach to Web and Mobile Usability, by Steve Krug

Don't Make Me Think Cover Image

My thoughts:

Don’t make me Think is a book about building, assessing, and testing for usability. I found this to be a fascinating read.  Krug has a conversational writing style, and the book is full of visual examples.  The content of this book reinforced my instincts to design with the user in mind. Krug is straight forward and sticks to his claim that most of the ideas he outlines are “common sense” and indeed, I did find that his theories reinforced my instincts as a designer and named many of my frustrations as a user. The concept of “not making your users think” is simple, it should not be hard for users to use sites.

What I’m taking away:

This book is packed with useful information and outstanding guidelines that I want keep in mind as a move forward as a developer/designer.

Whatever you are designing should be as many of these things as possible:

In the first chapter Krug introduces this list of guidelines to help keep you on track when reviewing or building. I’m working on memorizing this list, but until then I will keep it handy as a checklist.

  • Useful
  • Learnable
  • Memorable
  • Effective
  • Efficient
  • Desirable
  • Delightful

Language matters

Using common naming conventions and simple titles is important.  Naming buttons is not the time to get clever.  Call things what they are.

Sites are not read, they are scanned

Users scan pages and look for the first reasonable option.

Stick to the following to support scanning:

  • Conventions (use standards that are common and recognizable)
  • Visual hierarchies (use headings to highlight importance)
  • Clearly defined areas (use blank space and boarders to keep things visually organized)
  • Distractions (limit these as much as possible)
  • What’s clickable (should be obvious with standard visual cues)
  • Support scanning (use short paragraphs, lists, and highlight key terms)

Clicks matter

To a degree clicks matter, but what matters more is how hard those clicks were to achieve. Did your users have to spend mental capital to figure out what to click?

Writing for the web

Try to eliminate “Happy talk,” and keep instructions to a minimum. Keep paragraphs short and eliminate all extra words.  Effective writing for the web is about being concise.


Every site should have the following:

  • A sense of Scale (how big and deep does this go?)
  • Direction (where am I heading, how do I get there?)
  • Location (where am I?)
  • Home (How do I start over?)
  • Search (Where is the thing I’m looking for?)

Krug recommends trying what he refers to as the “Trunk Test,” which basically means that users should at a glance be able to quickly and easily find the following:

  • Site ID
  • Page name
  • Sections
  • Local navigation
  • You are here indicators
  • Search

What goes on the Home page?

The Home page is a place to spell out the big picture.  A unique and informative tagline, a welcome blurb, and a way to learn more. Remember space is your friend, and you don’t need to promote every feature on the home page, but rather draw visitors in.

Arguments about usability are a waste of time-
Here I will directly quote Krug: “It’s not productive to ask questions like “Do most people like pull-down menus?” The right kind of question to ask is “does this pull-down, with these items, and this wording in this context on this page create a good experience for most people who are likely to use this site?”

User Testing

There is a difference between a focus group, and a user testing group.  A focus group can help you determine if a product should be developed, and user testing group will help you determine if you are designing it right. Krug recommends testing early and often and includes and entire section that covers user testing frequency, number of users, who to test, how to find test users, where to do the testing, who observes, what to test, and a step by step guide for testing, including a script and possible problems, and deciding what to fix.

Reservoir of Goodwill

Krug introduces a user’s patience with a site as the “reservoir of goodwill: it’s size varies from person to person, its situational, and refillable, and a single mistake can empty it. Hidden information, forced conventions (dashes between phone numbers), asking for unneeded information, and looking amateurish all deplete the reservoir. While making choices obvious and ease, information informative, saving steps, and anticipating and answering user questions work toward filling the reservoir.


Accessibility benefits everyone and it is the right thing to do. Although it can seem like more work, and sometimes can compromise design, designing with your users in mind means adopting as many accessibility standards as possible.

Who should read this book?

I found this book incredibly informative and can recommend it whole heartedly.  Web developers should read this book, application designers, CEO’s and Project Managers should read this book.  Web users should read this book and start demanding better from the products we use.  Our lives are better lived with better experiences, and that starts with designing for the user.