The Design of Everyday Things: Lessons Learned

A summary of the lessons learned from reading The Design of Everyday Things
Asad Ahmed
Asad Ahmed
April 18th, 2023

"The Design of Everyday Things" is an influential work by Don Norman that delves into the principles of human-centered design and their application to everyday objects. The book's core message is that designers must create products that are easy to use and understand, taking into account the natural tendencies and limitations of human cognition. The book also highlights the paradox of technology: as technology advances, it becomes more complex and harder to use. Designers must take responsibility for making technology more usable, focusing on the needs and desires of users.

Key Concepts

A key concept in the book is Human-Centered Design (HCD), a four-stage process consisting of observation, ideation, prototyping, and testing. This approach emphasizes understanding the needs and desires of users, enabling designers to create products that are intuitive, functional, and enjoyable to use. By observing users in their natural environments, designers can gain insights into their behaviors, motivations, and challenges, leading to more effective design solutions.

One critical aspect of HCD is the user's mental model, which refers to the way users perceive and understand a system. Designers must create systems that align with users' mental models, ensuring that products are easy to learn and use. This involves understanding the users' expectations, preferences, and prior experiences, which can inform the design process and improve usability.

Feedback is another essential element of effective design. Good feedback must be immediate, informative, and understandable, helping users to recognize the consequences of their actions and make appropriate adjustments. This can involve visual, auditory, or tactile cues that signal whether an action was successful or not.

Affordances are yet another critical concept in the book. These are the perceived properties of an object that suggest how it should be used. Designers must create products with clear and appropriate affordances, making it evident to users how they should interact with the object.

Error prevention and recovery play a significant role in creating user-friendly products. Designers must anticipate the types of errors users might make and design systems that prevent those errors from occurring or allow for easy recovery. Chapter 6 specifically emphasizes the importance of considering human cognition when designing products. It introduces the concepts of slips and mistakes as two types of errors that people make when using products, highlighting that errors are often caused by natural tendencies and limitations of human cognition, rather than carelessness or lack of knowledge.

A Note for Designers

The Design of Everyday Things provides valuable insights and lessons for designers and anyone interested in creating user-friendly products. Some of the most important lessons learned from the book include:

The importance of empathy in design:

Designers should develop empathy for their users, understanding their needs, desires, and challenges. This empathetic approach allows designers to create products that genuinely address users' needs and foster better user experiences.

Balancing form and function:

While aesthetics are important, designers must not prioritize them at the expense of usability. Striking a balance between form and function is crucial for creating products that are both visually appealing and easy to use.

Adaptability and flexibility in design:

Designers should consider creating products that are adaptable and flexible to accommodate a diverse range of users, abilities, and contexts. By designing for inclusivity, products can cater to a broader audience and provide a better overall experience.

Importance of iterative design and learning from failures:

Designers should embrace an iterative design process, incorporating feedback and learnings from failures to refine and improve their designs. This approach leads to more effective, user-friendly, and successful products.

Designing for real-world contexts:

Products should be designed with real-world contexts in mind, taking into account the environments, situations, and conditions in which they will be used. This helps ensure that products remain functional and effective under a variety of circumstances.

Encouraging exploration and learning:

Designers can create products that encourage users to explore and learn by providing intuitive interfaces and discoverable features. This can lead to a more engaging and satisfying user experience, as users feel empowered and capable of mastering the product.

By incorporating these additional lessons learned from "The Design of Everyday Things" into their design processes, designers can create products that are more accessible, enjoyable, and effective for users. Through empathy, balancing form and function, adaptability, iterative design, real-world context consideration, and encouraging exploration, designers can better serve the needs and desires of their users, ultimately enhancing the overall user experience.

At Harled, we recognize the importance of designing software for the RCAF that is both intuitive and accessible while embracing the human-centered principles outlined in "The Design of Everyday Things." As we strive to create innovative solutions that enrich the lives of our users, we remain committed to understanding their needs and ensuring that our software is empathetic to their unique requirements.

By applying the invaluable lessons from this influential work, we aim to create a future where technology serves members of the RCAF, ultimately bridging the gap between the people who defend our nation and the cutting-edge tools that empower them to excel in their mission.

If you share our passion for design and product development and are inspired by the challenge of creating user-centered software solutions, we invite you to explore our careers page to see open positions! and consider joining our dedicated team. Together, we can continue to push the boundaries of innovation and make a lasting impact on the lives of those who serve in the RCAF.

About the author

Asad Ahmed

Asad is a Jr Full Stack Developer based out of Kitchener, ON.