Monday, May 25, 2009

Everyday Design

The classic book on design and usability is Donald Norman's The Design Of Everyday Things, published by The MIT Press in 1998 (and by Basic Books in the UK). Not only is this book full of definitive advice and wisdom, it's written in an easy-going style. Why are door handles so badly designed? How has the classic telephone been rendered unusable over the years? Why can't I use my stove? Which switch should control which light? These are just some of the questions Norman tackles with humour and -- dare I say it? -- common sense.

The Design Of Everyday Things is not a very technical book, nor does it get into details of methodology, but it does establish the foundation of user-centred design.

Norman's Seven Principles of Design are:
"1. Use both knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head.
2. Simplify the structure of tasks.
3. Make things visible: bridge the gulfs of Execution and Evaluation.
4. Get the mappings right.
5. Exploit the power of constraints, both natural and artificial.
6. Design for error.
7. When all else fails, standardize."

Likewise he has several steps we can use to evaluate a design, to tell whether it is good or bad.

How easily can one:
1. Determine the function of the device?
2. Tell what actions are possible?
3. Determine mapping from intention to physical movement?
4. Perform the action?
5. Determine mapping from system state to interpretation?
6. Tell what state the system is in?

These two lists very much make up the core ideas of the book. But you'll need to read it to get all the details... and have a good laugh along the way.

Keep these points in mind as you read my next article on the Pentax K-7 interface.

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