After being recommended this book years ago and only ever having read small parts of it, I finally got around to reading it cover to cover. Donald Norman takes basic psychological principles such as feedback and visbility and illustrates why they’re important for designers to consider, even when they’re designing everyday products and systems. Norman discusses the challenges we often face with seemingly simple everyday items such as doors and telephones. The book acts as a kind of checklist for designers, helping them to consider a series of basic principles when designing for usability.
“Doors?” I can hear the reader saying, “you have trouble opening doors?” Yes. I push doors that are meant to be pulled, pull doors that should be pushed, and walk into doors that should be slid … Somehow, when a device as simple as a door has to come with an instruction manual – even a one-word manual – then it is a failure, poorly designed.
A few days after reading the section devoted to misleading doors I was unsurprised to find myself having trouble opening the doors to the newly unveiled redesign of one of the university buildings I often use. This double set of beautiful looking glass doors all had vertical bar handles, even though some were ‘push’ doors and some were ‘pull’ doors. After several weeks of observing people’s confusion the university finally relented, adding labels to the doors. This set of doors was less than 100m away from the library which houses Norman’s books and the lecturers who teach his principles. It was a great reminder to tap the knowledge and resources around us rather than trying to blindly reinvent the wheel.
Note: The book was originally released as ‘The Psychology of Everyday Things” in 1988, but thanks to Norman’s keen insight it remains highly valuable.