The Design of Everyday Things

Andreas Kremer

Book Review

Design not only beautifies the world around us, it’s also able to simplify our interactions with objects through visual communication. The beauty of this aspect of design is its ability to evoke an intended response, which creates this form of visual communication.  The job of a designer is to portray an idea or function to an intended audience that clearly convey’s, through careful consideration of the elements at play, their idea or purpose.  However, their is no concrete standard or formula for design, therefore it is all up to the mind and eye of the designer, but often times beautification take’s over the functionality aspect, creating confusion and a disconnect between the design and the purpose.  This brings us to the idea of understanding all the aspects of design, as design takes the form of a noun and a verb, here we’re thinking in terms of both, as in how to design a design.  The novel The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman takes a whole new look on the world around us, and how it is and can be viewed.  Through countless interactions with the objects we interact with day after day we start to take for granted the little aspects of their design that enhance, or often as we will see, degrade their functionality.  By breaking down the simplest devices into their basic functions and features, then rebuilding them in a way that is both obvious yet entirely new Norman shows the good and bad of design elements in everyday objects.

A functional design must clearly convey the essence of the device’s operation to the user.  When you walk up to a door, how do you know how to deal with it? This is something I and most people would never consciously think about when using it. Norman point’s out subtle cues everyone uses, such as where the handles & hinges are located, as well as the normal conventions, such as pushing to go out of a commercial door.  Two key concepts Norman points out that designers must consider in order to create this positive relation between the user and product are mapping and feedback.  Mapping is concerned with the relationship between two things, like a door and the user.  Feedback refers the information that is sent to the user about what action has actually been done.  These concepts seem simple yet it can be difficult to find a way to apply them in a way that can be universally understood.

Through breaking down the concepts of design Norman creates a very simple method of depicting these problem to people who aren’t even designers. As you start to understand what visual clues subconsciously guide us through our days you begin to better understand some of the major  issues presented.  One example Norman used was about getting briefly stick in the foyer of a commercial building because of the ‘modern’ design of the doors. “The hinges were hidden, it was almost entirely glass, and the handles stretched across the entire center of the door giving no clue as to which way they should be opened. Along with one set of doors opening in the opposite direction from the others.” This creates for a very elegant layout to a building entrance yet, this hinders the main function and usability of the door making this simple task of walking into a building become an irritating puzzle.  Now this might not seem like a huge deal but, it is.

Norman pulls out some truly horrific numbers to make a great point on how important intuitive design is. “The average person has around 30,000 different instruction sets to remember on a regular basis. If each one of these took just a minute to remember, you’d be spending several months learning them.”  The fact that we’ve absorbed this great deal of these instructions and conventions over decades makes it particularly irritating when things are redesigned in a way that isn’t innate to us. The fact that we will be facing an increasing number of these situations on a daily basis even further secludes the importance of design. Norman show’s through a thorough examination of human behavior how we can determine the cues needed to effortlessly guide us through our lives in away that is intuitive.

This book constantly suggest the importance of design and what a major role it plays in our lives. As a designer, this has been inspiring to read. This book has shown me a whole new side to the importance of designers that I didn’t truly understand. Through seeing this I am more confident in the power designers hold in society. Norman has done an excellent job critiquing various objects. He doesn’t stop there, he also points out good designs and possible solutions to improve upon not so good ones. The fact that he is not entirely one sided shows he has put research and time into understanding all the aspects so you truly understand the effect design has on the world.


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