The Design of Everyday Things Chapter 1, 4


This article talks about my reflections on the chapters 1 & 4 from the design bible- ‘The Design of Everyday things‘ by the very own Father of Design, Donald Norman. I always wanted to learn about the psychological aspects that go into creating a design, and this book precisely speaks about the cognitive psychology. The ergonomic factors which make a design more human friendly and adaptive to human behaviour, are very well exemplified in the chapters.

My Learnings
The chapter one, The Psychopathology of Everyday Things, provides examples of existing designs that lack the user friendliness and thus make lives difficult. Such designs are not only frustrating but also decrease user’s productivity to a huge extent. Quoting the example of poorly designed doors (Norman doors), the author explains how a small object with which we interact daily can creating frustrating experiences if not designed correctly. Having no signs on the doors for ‘Pull’ and ‘Push’ sometimes makes us wonder about its mechanism. To give an analogy, the doors in the UMBC’s Commons building and few other buildings initially threw me into confusion. I couldn’t understand which door to push and which to open, which was a nightmare when I used to be in hurry. But then I noticed there is a ‘pressing handle’ on almost every door which indicates ‘Push’. After using the doors n number of times, I’m not able to identify the push-pull mechanism. needless to say, it was not an easy task and took me sometime to figure out ‘how it works’! That’s when I learned discoverability and understanding are of foremost importance in design.

Further, In chapter four, Knowing What to Do: Constraints, Discoverability, and Feedback, the authors states the importance of Constraints, Discoverability, and Feedback in design. Constraints are the limitations which surround a design. They can be classified as Physical, Cultural, Semantic, and Logical. Although they act as the boundaries, they help in preventing the user from getting digressed; they help him focus on his task rather than getting lost in non essentials. For instance, the JavaScript validations on Amazon’s payment page prevent you from:

  • entering more than 16 digits for your card name
  • more than 3 digits for your cvv number
  • empty card holder’s name and
  • the drop down suggests you to chose month, day and year separately for your birth date. This reduces chances of choosing different date formats other than the US.

This is a classic case wherein constraint, discoverability and feedback help the user to correctly perform his task eventually increasing his productivity.

Also, affordances and signifiers are important aspects to be considered while designing a system. For instance, the affordance of a door knob is very high, as it intuitively signifies the manner in which the object (door) can be used. On the contrary, a door not having a knob on it perplexes the user about its use- Push or Pull. That’s an example of a poor design with low degree of affordance.

In conclusion, I found the reading as a very helpful design guideline which when followed can create really good user centered products and reduce the frustration caused by the poorly designed ones.


Thanks for stopping by and reading! 🙂