Here are my notes from The Design of Everyday Things:
- The best products do not always succeed. Brilliant new technologies might take decades to become accepted. To understand products, it is not enough to understand design or technology: it is critical to understand business.
- Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure out 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?
- Faced with a bewildering array of controls and displays, we simply memorize one or two fixed settings to approximate what is desired.
- Engineers are trained to think logically. As a result, they come to believe that all people must think this way, and they design their machines accordingly. When people have trouble, the engineers are upset, but often for the wrong reason. “What are these people doing?” they will wonder. “Why are they doing that?” The problem with the designs of most engineers is that they are too logical. We have to accept human behavior the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be.
- Design presents a fascinating interplay of technology and psychology.
- Good design requires good communication, especially from machine to person, indicating what actions are possible, what is happening, and what is about to happen. Communication is especially important when things go wrong. It is relatively easy to design things that work smoothly and harmoniously as long as things go right. But as soon as there is a problem or a misunderstanding, the problems arise. This is where good design is essential. Designers need to focus their attention on the cases where things go wrong, not just on when things work as planned. Actually, this is where the most satisfaction can arise: when something goes wrong but the machine highlights the problems, then the person understands the issue, takes the proper actions, and the problem is solved. When this happens smoothly, the collaboration of person and device feels wonderful.
- Great designers produce pleasurable experiences. Experience: note the word. Engineers tend not to like it; it is too subjective. But when I ask them about their favorite automobile or test equipment, they will smile delightedly as they discuss the fit and finish, the sensation of power during acceleration, their ease of control while shifting or steering, or the wonderful feel of the knobs and switches on the instrument. Those are experiences.
Experience is critical, for it determines how fondly people remember their interactions.
- A chair affords (“is for”) support and, therefore, affords sitting. Most chairs can also be carried by a single person (they afford lifting), but some can only be lifted by a strong person or by a team of people. If young or relatively weak people cannot lift a chair, then for these people, the chair does not have that affordance, it does not afford lifting.
The presence of an affordance is jointly determined by the qualities of the object and the abilities of the agent that is interacting.
- Glass affords transparency. At the same time, its physical structure blocks the passage of most physical objects. As a result, glass affords seeing through and support, but not the passage of air or most physical objects (atomic particles can pass through glass). The blockage of passage can be considered an anti-affordance—the prevention of interaction. To be effective, affordances and anti-affordances have to be discoverable—perceivable. This poses a difficulty with glass. The reason we like glass is its relative invisibility, but this aspect, so useful in the normal window, also hides its anti-affordance property of blocking passage. As a result, birds often try to fly through windows. And every year, numerous people injure themselves when they walk (or run) through closed glass doors or large picture windows. If an affordance or anti-affordance cannot be perceived, some means of signaling its presence is required: I call this property a signifier.
- Affordances exist even if they are not visible. For designers, their visibility is critical: visible affordances provide strong clues to the operations of things. A flat plate mounted on a door affords pushing. Knobs afford turning, pushing, and pulling. Slots are for inserting things into. Balls are for throwing or bouncing. Perceived affordances help people figure out what actions are possible without the need for labels or instructions. I call the signaling component of affordances signifiers.
Affordances determine what actions are possible. Signifiers communicate where the action should take place.
- Signifiers can be deliberate and intentional, such as the sign PUSH on a door, but they may also be accidental and unintentional, such as our use of the visible trail made by previous people walking through a field or over a snow-covered terrain to determine the best path. Or how we might use the presence or absence of people waiting at a train station to determine whether we have missed the train.
- Mapping is an important concept in the design and layout of controls and displays. When the mapping uses spatial correspondence between the layout of the controls and the devices being controlled, it is easy to determine how to use them. In steering a car, we rotate the steering wheel clockwise to cause the car to turn right: the top of the wheel moves in the same direction as the car. Note that other choices could have been made. In early cars, steering was controlled by a variety of devices, including tillers, handlebars, and reins. Today, some vehicles use joysticks, much as in a computer game. In cars that used tillers, steering was done much as one steers a boat: move the tiller to the left to turn to the right. Tractors, construction equipment such as bulldozers and cranes, and military tanks that have tracks instead of wheels use separate controls for the speed and direction of each track: to turn right, the left track is increased in speed, while the right track is slowed or even reversed. This is also how a wheelchair is steered.
- Natural mapping, by which I mean taking advantage of spatial analogies, leads to immediate understanding. For example, to move an object up, move the control up. To make it easy to determine which control works which light in a large room or auditorium, arrange the controls in the same pattern as the lights. Some natural mappings are cultural or biological, as in the universal standard that moving the hand up signifies more, moving it down signifies less, which is why it is appropriate to use vertical position to represent intensity or amount. Other natural mappings follow from the principles of perception and allow for the natural grouping or patterning of controls and feedback. Groupings and proximity are important principles from Gestalt psychology that can be used to map controls to function: related controls should be grouped together. Controls should be close to the item being controlled.
- Good design takes care, planning, thought, and an understanding of how people behave.
- A conceptual model is an explanation, usually highly simplified, of how something works. It doesn’t have to be complete or even accurate as long as it is useful. The files, folders, and icons you see displayed on a computer screen help people create the conceptual model of documents and folders inside the computer, or of apps or applications residing on the screen, waiting to be summoned. In fact, there are no folders inside the computer—those are effective conceptualizations designed to make them easier to use.
- During my family’s stay in England, we rented a furnished house while the owners were away. One day, our landlady returned to the house to get some personal papers. She walked over to the old, metal filing cabinet and attempted to open the top drawer. It wouldn’t open. She pushed it forward and backward, right and left, up and down, without success. I offered to help. I wiggled the drawer. Then I twisted the front panel, pushed down hard, and banged the front with the palm of one hand. The cabinet drawer slid open. “Oh,” she said, “I’m sorry. I am so bad at mechanical things.” No, she had it backward. It is the mechanical thing that should be apologizing, perhaps saying, “I’m sorry. I am so bad with people.”
- People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!
Once you realize that they don’t really want the drill, you realize that perhaps they don’t really want the hole, either: they want to install their bookshelves. Why not develop methods that don’t require holes? Or perhaps books that don’t require bookshelves. (Yes, I know: electronic books, e-books.)
- Feedback provides reassurance, even when it indicates a negative result. A lack of feedback creates a feeling of lack of control, which can be unsettling. Feedback is critical to managing expectations, and good design provides this.
- A friend kindly let me borrow his car, an older, classic Saab. Just before I was about to leave, I found a note waiting for me: “I should have mentioned that to get the key out of the ignition, the car needs to be in reverse.” The car needs to be in reverse! If I hadn’t seen the note, I never could have figured that out. There was no visible cue in the car: the knowledge needed for this trick had to reside in the head. If the driver lacks that knowledge, the key stays in the ignition forever.
- Many codes, such as postal codes and telephone numbers, exist primarily to make life easier for machines and their designers without any consideration of the burden placed upon people.
- Never criticize unless you have a better alternative.
- The most effective way of helping people remember is to make it unnecessary.
- When people err, change the system so that type of error will be reduced or eliminated. When complete elimination is not possible, redesign to reduce the impact.
- When people are asked what they need, they primarily think of the everyday problems they face, seldom noticing larger failures, larger needs. They don’t question the major methods they use. Moreover, even if they carefully explain how they do their tasks and then agree that you got it right when you present it back to them, when you watch them, they will often deviate from their own description. “Why?” you ask. “Oh, I had to do this one differently,” they might reply; “this was a special case.” It turns out that most cases are “special.” Any system that does not allow for special cases will fail.
- In the world of products, original ideas are the easy part.
If you liked the above content, I’d definitely recommend reading the whole book. 💯
Until We Meet Again…