Recommended Reading: The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

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Next in our Recommended Reading is The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman’s UX classic. 

Originally titled “The Psychology of Everyday Things”, the 25th Anniversary updated edition got renamed as “The Design of Everyday Things”.

  My copy of the earlier edition came from a used bookstore in Seattle, and I’m always amused to see that it’s a discard from the Microsoft library. 

My copy of the earlier edition came from a used bookstore in Seattle, and I’m always amused to see that it’s a discard from the Microsoft library. 

Of course, I’ve lent and given out copies of this book, to family members, friends, even bosses. It’s a great explainer of “what I do” that doesn’t talk down to the reader, setting a tone I aspire to in my own writing and speaking. 

Norman, a cognitive psychologist who started out as an engineer, writes from a perspective of humility. Reading his exploration of errors changed how I saw the design of systems (as Norman says, “To err is human”). What’s more, this book makes you appreciate humanity’s foibles with technology. To wit:

Engineers still tend to believe in logic. They often explain to me in great, logical detail, why their designs are good, powerful, and wonderful. “Why are people having problems?” they wonder. “You are being too logical,” I say. “You are designing for people the way you would like them to be, not for the way they really are.”

Another wonderful thing about this book is how Norman engages with very material examples of design- from teapots to doors to computer keyboards. He claims that part of the reason for the book’s update is that the examples in the original were too dated. Yet, even the older edition still feels fresh, even with some recherché examples. 

Regardless, this is a rich, multilayered work that is both accessible to the curious bystander and challenging for experienced practitioners. What’s more, it lays out the challenge for the work of the next generation of designers, thinkers, and makers. 

NB: Our recommended books are independently selected, and we work with our local bookstore and other partners to share them. If you buy something through our links, UX Night School may earn an affiliate commission.