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Book Notes: “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman


The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman (revised edition, 2013) is a book that considers the depth and range of interactions between people and the real world. This is ostensibly a book about design, but to suggest that this book should only be read by designers would be a mistake; this book should be read by anyone interested in learning more about human cognition and behavior.

“Design is concerned with how things work, how they are controlled, and the nature of the interaction between people and technology,” writes the author. The range of “things” is not just limited to physical objects (like the improbable tea kettle on the book cover), it includes any artificial creation: software and digital interfaces, the layout of a living room, a manual for an appliance, services, lectures, processes, organizational structures, experiences and more.

An underlying theme throughout the book is Norman’s concept of “Human Centered Design” (HCD). Since things are designed and used by humans, great care and attention must be given to making sure the design serves human needs and capabilities. Simply put: design things to accommodate humans, not the other way around.

An important part of designing for humans is dealing with human limitations. A good portion of the book is spent on specific ways to address these concerns: how to deal with short-term memory and distraction, how to circumvent faulty mental models, how to deal with physical constraints. On the subject of “human error,” for instance, Norman is clear: human errors are, in fact, design errors. “Without a deep understanding of people, the designs are apt to be faulty, difficult to use, difficult to understand.” Failure and error must be reframed by the lens of HCD: design for people and the way people think.

I can’t even begin to the scratch the surface of this book in a brief summary. This is an expansive book that belies its relatively mundane cover title. Norman explores more about human cognition, memory, emotion and conceptual models in this book than many other books I’ve read on psychology and human behavior. There are few books that can truly open your mind to new ideas and new ways of thinking and give you a greater appreciation for your physical environment; this is one of them.

Pros: Information and idea-dense. This book is as much about human behavior as it is about design.

Cons: Organization and progression of ideas has improved greatly in the revised edition but some chapters ramble.

Verdict: 10/10

Notes & Highlights

Chapter 1: The Psychopathology of Everyday Things

  • “Design is concerned with how things work, how they are controlled, and the nature of the interaction between people and technology.”

  • “Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding.”

    • Discoverability: Is it possible to figure out what actions are possible?

    • Understanding: What does it all mean? How should this device be used? What do the controls and settings mean?

    • Example: With doors that push, the designer out provide signals that naturally indicate where to push (and that a push, rather than pull, is needed).

      • A vertical plate on the side to be pushed.
      • Making the supporting pillars visible.
    • Aesthetics can still be maintained in this framework, but should not be the primary goal.

  • Natural signals: Visible design clues that inform the end-user how to use something without additional labels or instruction.

  • “With complex devices, discoverability and understanding require the aid of manuals or personal instruction.”

  • The definition and applicability of design is broad:

“All artificial things are designed. Whether it is the layout of furniture in a room, the paths through a garden or forest, or the intricacies of an electronic device, some person or group of people had to decide upon the layout, operation, and mechanisms. Not all designed things involve physical structures. Services, lectures, rules and procedures, and the organizational structures of businesses and governments do not have physical mechanisms, but their rules of operation have to be designed, sometimes informally, sometimes precisely recorded and specified.”

  • Major design fields:

    • Industrial design: Creation, development and specification of products and systems for the benefit of user and manufacturer.
    • Interaction design: Focus on how people interact with technology. “Enhance people’s understanding of what can be done, what is happening, and what has just occurred.”
    • Experience design: Designing products, processes, services, events and environments with a focus on quality and enjoyment of the experience.
  • Tools and things are used by people, therefore they should be designed with a human-centric lens.

    • “It is not our duty to understand the arbitrary, meaningless dictates of machines.”
  • Some reasons for deficiencies in human-machine interaction:

    • Limitations of current technology.
    • Self-imposed restrictions by designers (often cost-related).
    • Lack of understanding of design principles.
  • Logical solutions to design problems are frequently used BUT humans are not always logical creatures. Design must account for human irrationality and foibles.

    • “We have to accept human behavior the way it is, not the way we would wish it to be.”
    • Author (former engineer) posits that engineers must understand both technology and people. Historically, too much emphasis has been placed on the former.
    • Design with the assumption that people will make errors.
  • Human-centered design (HCD): “The process that ensures that the designs match the needs and capabilities of the people for whom they are intended.”

    • This approach is complementary to the industrial, interaction and experience design fields.
    • HCD is a philosophy.
  • Experience: The quality of a user-interaction.

    • The result can run the spectrum from enjoyably productive to failed outcomes that are frustrating and confusing.
    • Cognition and emotion are strongly intertwined.
  • Five key elements of discoverability:

    • Affordances

      • “Affordances determine what actions are possible.”

      • “Affordances represent the possibilities in the world for how an agent can interact with something. Some affordances are perceivable, others are invisible.”

      • Example: “Glass affords transparency and blocks the passage of physical objects.”

      • Visible affordances offer strong clues about the operations of things:

        • Knobs are for turning.
        • Slots are for inserting.
        • Balls are for throwing or bouncing.
    • Signifiers

      • “Signifiers communicate where the action should take place.”
      • A signifier is any mark, sound or indicator that communicates appropriate behavior to a person.
      • Signifiers can be intentional. They can also be accidental and unintentional.
      • “Signifiers are signals. Some signifiers are signs, labels, and drawings placed in the world…some signifiers are simply the perceived affordances, such as the handle of a door or the physical structure of a switch.”
      • Signifiers must be perceivable or else the fail to function.
    • Constraints

      • Limitations in application or use that can help with the formation of conceptual models.
    • Mappings

      • The relationship between two things.

      • “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.”

      • Natural mapping: Taking advantage of spatial analogies that result in immediate understanding.

        • Example: To move an object “up,” more the control up.
      • “A device is easy to use when the set of possible actions is visible, when the controls and displays exploit natural mappings.”

    • Feedback

      • Communicating the results of an action back to the user.

      • Immediate feedback is ideal. Delayed feedback can be disconcerting and lead to user abandonment or failure.

      • Feedback should communicate clear, unambiguous information back the user in order to be effective.

      • There is a delicate balance in the amount of feedback:

        • Too much feedback can be annoying and irritating to users.
        • Too little feedback can be as useless as no feedback at all.
        • Feedback also needs to be prioritized (important messages/alerts vs. unimportant).
  • Conceptual models are explanations, often simplified, of how something works.

    • Example: The computer “desktop” with its attendant files, folders and icons helps users create a conceptual model of documents within the computer.

    • “A good conceptual model allows us to predict the effects of our actions.”

    • Mental models are the conceptual models in the end-users mind that represent their understanding of how things work. A person may have multiple, often conflicting, models for the same item.

    • The major clues for how tings work comes from the signifiers, affordances, constraints and mappings for the thing.

    • Poorly presented conceptual models (or incorrect ones) can create end-user frustration.

      • Example: Digital wristwatches with small buttons that must be used individually or in combination to set the time and operate other functions.
      • Author uses the example of a refrigerator which presents a false conceptual model at odds with how the device actually functions.
  • System image the combined information available to us that helps form our understanding for a given object, thing or system.

    • Includes provided documentation, instructions, labels, etc.

    • An incomplete or contradictory system image will result in errors and end-user problems.

    • How do flawed system images emerge?

      • Designer’s conceptual model is the designer’s conception of the look, feel and operation of a product.
      • System image is what can be derived from the physical structure that has been built (incl. documentation).
      • User’s model is the mental model developed through actual interaction with the product and the system image.
    • “Designers expect the user’s model to be identical to their own, but because they cannot communicate directly with the user, the burden of communication is with the system image.”

  • “Good conceptual models are the key to understandable, enjoyable products: good communication is key to good conceptual models.”

  • The challenge of design is to promote HCD (human centered design) alongside all the other myriad requirements from other functions in the company. For example: cost constraints, aesthetics, technology limitations, reliability, and more.

Chapter 2: The Psychology of Everyday Actions

  • When people use a thing—product, tool or service—they face two gulfs (obstacles) between desired outcome (goal) and available options (what actions to perform):

    • The Gulf of Execution

      • How do I work this thing? What can it do? What can I do with it?
      • Bridged through signifiers, constraints, mappings and a conceptual model.
    • The Gulf of Evaluation

      • What happened? Is this what I wanted?
      • Bridged through feedback and a conceptual model.
  • “There are two parts to an action: executing the action and then evaluating the results: doing and interpreting.”

  • The action cycle (7-stages of action, goal, 3 execution steps, 3 evaluation steps)

    1. Goal (form the goal)
    2. Plan (the action)
    3. Specify (an action sequence)
    4. Perform (the action sequence)
    5. Perceive (the state of the world)
    6. Interpret (the perception)
    7. Compare (the outcome with the goal)
  • Types of behaviors:

    • Goal-driven behavior: Starts at the top of the action cycle and work down.
    • Event-driven behavior or data-driven behavior can start from the bottom, triggered by the environment or world. In this situation, the cycle starts in the evaluation stage first.
  • Root cause analysis

    • Reconsider the true goals behind a user’s immediate or superficial goal.
    • Example: Professor Theodore Levitt “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!” Buying a drill is a partial goal. The true goal might be that they want to hang shelves on the wall. [me: similar to Christensen’s “jobs to be done” framework]
  • Designers must understand the human mind: “Without a deep understanding of people, the designs are apt to be faulty, difficult to use, difficult to understand.”

  • We don’t understand human behavior well because “most human behavior is result of subconscious processes.”

  • “Emotion is highly underrated. In fact, the emotional system is a powerful information processing system that works in tandem with cognition. Cognition attempts to make sense of the world: emotion assigns value.”

  • Systems of cognition:

    • Subconscious: Fast. Automatic. Controls skilled behavior.
    • Conscious: Slow. Controlled. Invoked for novel situations (when learning, when things go wrong).
  • Three levels of processing:

    • Visceral: subconscious

      • Most basic level of processing (aka “the lizard brain”).
      • Fast and automatic. Responds to the present.
      • Rapid response and decision-making like “fight or flight,”, “good or bad.”
      • Design implications: Immediate perceptions. Example: Initial response to a color or sound. Attraction vs. repulsion.
    • Behavioral: subconscious

      • Learned skills triggered by situations that match known patterns.
      • Aware of the high level actions but the details are handled at a subconscious level (from memory and habit).
      • Design implications: Every action carries an associated expectation. Feedback loops are important here.
    • Reflective: conscious thought

      • Highest level of thought and decision-making and emotions.
      • Deep, slow and analytical cognition.
      • Attempt to understand cause and effect and make predictions occurs here.
      • Accounts for memories which carry long-term implications. “Reflective memories are often more important than reality.”
      • Design implications: Might be best understood by designers because it is overt and can be logical. Emotional component should not be discounted or disregarded.
  • “Design must take place at all levels: visceral, behavioral, and reflective.”

“People are innately disposed to look for causes of events, to form explanations and stories. That is one reason storytelling is such a persuasive medium. Stories resonate with our experiences and provide examples of new instances. From our experiences and the stories of others we tend to form generalizations about the way people behave and things work.”

  • Conceptual models are a form of story-telling.

    • People form mental models based on their interactions with the real world.
    • These mental models attempt to explain the world but sometimes the models are flawed.
    • A “folk theory” represents a flawed, naive, unsubstantiated idea.
    • Example: People who think turning a thermostat to the highest setting in order to more quickly heat a room have a flawed mental model.
  • Assignment of blame as a source for error in our interactions with things:

    • People like to find causes for events.
    • People are inclined to assign causal relation when two things occur in succession.
    • We frequently possess insufficient information when we make an immediate judgement.
    • “If we believe that others are able to use the device and if we believe that it is not very complete, then we conclude that any difficulties must be our own fault.”
    • When things go well, we credit ourselves for causing the result.
    • When things go poorly, we blame the environment or others for the result.
  • Learned helplessness: Situations in which people experience repeated failure at a task. As a result, the determine that the task cannot be done (at least by themselves).

  • Taught helplessness: The resultant helplessness, such as technology or mathematics phobia, that is the result of many repeated cases of learned helplessness.

  • “If an error is possible, someone will make it. The designer must assume that all possible errors will occur and design so as to minimize the chance of error in the first place, or its effects once it gets made.”

  • “Errors should be easy to detect, they should have minimal consequences, and, if possible, their effects should be reversible.”

  • The corresponding questions to ask in the action cycle:

    1. What do I want to accomplish?
    2. What are the alternative action sequences?
    3. What action can I do now?
    4. How do I do it?
    5. What happened?
    6. What does it mean?
    7. Have I accomplished my goal?
  • Well-designed products result in users who can confidently answer all of the above questions when using a particular product.

  • Seven fundamental principles of design:

    1. Discoverability: User is able to determine range of supported actions.
    2. Feedback: Product provides clear, continuous information about its state.
    3. Conceptual model: Product projects a clear system model to the user.
    4. Affordances: Proper affordances make the desired actions possible.
    5. Signifiers: Effective use ensures discoverability and proper feedback.
    6. Mappings: Good relationship between controls and actions (ideally through natural means like spatial layout and temporal contiguity).
    7. Constraints: Physical, logical, semantic and cultural constraints guide actions.

Chapter 3: Knowledge in the Head and in the World

  • Precise behavior from imprecise knowledge in the following cases:

    1. Knowledge exists in both the head and the world.

      • Head: Person knows/remembers how to do a thing.
      • World: Person can derive how to perform a task from things and the environment.
    2. Great precision is not required.

    3. Natural constraints exist in the world.

    4. Knowledge of cultural constraints and conventions exist in the head.

“Because behavior can be guided by the combination of internal and external knowledge and constraints, people can minimize the amount of material they must learn, as well as the completeness, precision, accuracy, or depth of the learning. They also can deliberately organize the environment to support behavior.”

  • “Whenever knowledge needed to do a task is readily available in the world, the need for us to learn it diminishes.”

    • Example: We don’t memorize phone numbers as readily in the smartphone era.
    • Example: We know generally what a particular coin looks like, but cannot provide the features exactly.
  • Two kinds of knowledge:

    • Declarative knowledge (“knowledge of”)

      • Knowledge of facts and rules.
      • Easy to write down and teach.
      • Example: New York is east of Chicago.
    • Procedural knowledge (“knowledge of how”)

      • Knowledge that enables a person to perform music, return a serve in tennis and move the mouth/tongue properly when saying a tongue twister.
      • Procedural knowledge is taught by demonstration and learned through practice.
      • Procedural knowledge is largely subconscious.
  • “Normally, people do not need precision in their judgments. All that is needed is the combination of knowledge in the world and in the head that makes decisions unambiguous. Everything works just fine unless the environment changes so that the combined knowledge is no longer sufficient: this can lead to havoc.”

    • Example: Coins do not require precision memory for recognition. However, introduction of the Susan B. Anthony dollar create problems for people due to its similarities with the existing quarter coin.
  • People store only partial descriptions of things that need to be remembered.

  • Constraints can reduce the number of things or possibilities that need to be learned or remembered to a reasonable number.

    • Example: Epic poetry relies on conventions of meter and rhyming. Rhyming limits possible word choices.
  • Two major classes of memory:

    • Short-term memory or working memory (STM)

      • Retains the most recent information being thought about.
      • STM storage capacity is limited.
      • Interruptions and distractions can result in loss of thoughts.
      • Many techniques can aid or prevent STM loss: writing things down, use of mnemonics, use of different modalities (e.g. audio and touch feedback to prevent distracting visual activities).
    • Long-term memory (LTM)

      • Memory for the past.

      • LTM storage capacity is massive.

      • Retrieval is the challenge for LTM. “Top of the tongue” phenomenon.

      • Knowledge in the head is actually memory:

        • Memory for arbitrary things.
        • Memory for meaningful things.
  • Simplified models are ways of simplifying thought and achieving good-enough approximations.

    • Example: Model for STM ““There are five memory slots in short-term memory. Each time a new item is added, it occupies a slot, knocking out whatever was there beforehand”

      • Not scientifically accurate but good enough for real-world applications.
      • Designers can make good use of this model in their work.
    • “Conceptual models are powerful explanatory devices, useful in a variety of circumstances. They do not have to be accurate as long as they lead to the correct behavior in the desired situation.”

Chapter 4: Knowing What to Do: Constraints, Discoverability, and Feedback

  • ““Constraints are powerful clues, limiting the set of possible actions.”

  • Four types of constraints:

    • Physical constraints

      • Physical limitations that constrain the range of operations.
      • Example: A square peg cannot be used with a round hole.
    • Cultural constraints

      • Culturally accepted range of actions for a given situation.
      • Example: Red as a the culturally accepted color for “stop.”
      • Conventions are a kind of cultural constraint. For instance some cultures eat with forks, some with chopsticks and some with their hands.
    • Semantic constraints

      • Rely on the meaning of a situation to control the range of actions.
      • Example: A windshield is meant to block wind from a rider’s face and therefore must be placed in front of the rider.
    • Logical constraints

      • Using reason to determine the range of actions.
      • Example: Two switches to control two lights. Logically the left switch should operate the left light and the right-side switch the right light.
  • Legacy problems: Existing standards or ways of doing things that makes change difficult or problematic.

    • Example: Symmetrical cylindrical batteries (where it is often unclear which end goes up). New battery design that avoids this error is difficult to get widespread adoption.
  • “Affordances, signifiers, mappings, and constraints can simplify our encounters with everyday objects. Failure to properly deploy these cues leads to problems.”

  • “Standardization is indeed the fundamental principle of desperation: when no other solution appears possible, simply design everything the same way, so people only have to learn once.”

  • Skeumorphic: incorporating old ideas or paradigms into new technologies (even when they play no functional role). Skeumorphism is a helpful way to transition from old to new technologies.

Chapter 5: Human Error? No, Bad Design

  • Learn to see human errors as design problems rather than human incompetence.

  • “Physical limitations are well understood by designers; mental limitations are greatly misunderstood.”

  • “Treat all failures in the same way: find the fundamental causes and redesign the system so that these can no longer lead to problems.”

  • Swiss cheese model of accidents (from James Reason): Most accidents (and errors) are the result of multiple failures.

  • “When root cause analysis discovers a human error in the chain, its work has just begun: now we apply the analysis to understand why the error occurred, and what can be done to prevent it.”

  • “Root cause analysis is intended to determine the underlying cause of an incident, not the proximate cause”

  • The Five Whys: Japanese process for getting at root causes (from Toyota). The goal is to keep moving the inquiry deeper. Example:

    1. Why did the plane crash? (Because it was in an uncontrolled dive)
    2. Why didn’t the pilot recover from the dive? (Because the pilot failed to initiate a timely recovery)
    3. Why was that? (Because he might have been unconscious)
    4. Why was that? (We don’t know. Need to find out).
    5. Further inquiry as needed.
  • The lesson of the Five Whys is that we usually end our inquiry too soon.

  • “The tendency to stop seeking reasons as soon as a human error has been found is widespread.”

    • This flawed idea results in failure to implement simple procedural changes that can yield big improvements.
    • Natural tendency to blame someone, even oneself, for human error.
    • Designs focus on requirements of the system and hardware not upon the requirements of the people.
  • Deliberate violations: Consciously circumventing procedures and proper usage. An important dimension of failure but not in the scope of Norman’s design considerations.

    • Routine violations: Occur when noncompliance is frequently ignored. Example: Propping open a locked door.
    • Situational violations: Occur under special circumstances. Example: Running a red-light when no other cares are around.
  • Types of errors:

    • Slips: Execution flaws. Goal is correct but required actions are not done properly.
    • Mistakes: Goal or plan is wrong.
  • “A slip occurs when a person intends to do one action and ends up doing something else. With a slip, the action performed is not the same as the action that was intended.”

  • Action-based slips:

    • The wrong action is performed.

    • Example: Poured milk into the coffee and then put the coffee cup into the refrigerator (instead of the milk carton).

    • Three action slips relevant to design:

      • Capture slips: Action being performed but a different, recent activity with a similar pattern is used.

        • Example: “I was using a copying machine, and I was counting the pages. I found myself counting, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen, King.” I had been playing cards recently.”
        • Designers should avoid procedures that start with identical or overly similarly steps and then diverge.
      • Description-similarity slips: Error results from similar targets.

        • Example: “A former student…came home from jogging, took off his sweaty shirt, and rolled it up in a ball, intending to throw it in the laundry basket. Instead he threw it in the toilet.”
        • Designers need to ensure that controls and displays for different actions are significantly different. Similar looking switches make it easy for this slip to occur.
      • Mode-error slips: Error resulting from device that has different states in which same controls have different meanings.

        • Example: Turning off the wrong device in your home entertainment system.
        • This is a true design error. Especially likely when product doesn’t make the mode or state visible or when products employ single controls for many functions.
  • Memory-lapse slips:

    • Intended action not done or its result not evaluated.

    • Example: Forgot to put away the carton of milk after making my coffee.

    • Design implications:

      • Minimize number of steps.
      • Provide clear visible or audible reminders.
      • Utilize forcing functions (a required step to complete a proces
  • Rule-based mistake:

    • Person understands situation but uses the wrong course of action to solve the problem.

    • Different types of rule-based mistakes:

      • Situation wrongly interpreted resulting in wrong goal and therefore use of incorrect rule.
      • Correct rule is used but the rule is flawed (either formulated wrong or conditions are different than assumed by the rule).
      • Correct rule is used but the outcome is evaluated incorrectly.
    • Designers need to provide sufficient guidance and feedback.

  • Knowledge-based mistake:

    • The problem is misdiagnosed because of erroneous or incomplete knowledge.
    • Example: Weight of fuel was competed in pounds instead of kilograms.
    • “The best solution to knowledge-based situations is to be found in a good understanding of the situation, which in most cases also translates into an appropriate conceptual model.”
  • Memory-lapse mistakes:

    • Memory leads to forgetting the goal or plan of action.
    • Interruption is a common cause of this mistake.
    • Forgetting earlier evaluations results in remaking a decision (sometimes erroneously).
    • These are mistakes not slips because the goals and plan becomes wrong.
    • Design solutions are similar to those for memory-lapse slips.
  • Social pressure is an important component to accidents.

    • Arbitrary deadlines or financial considerations that force individuals to act more quickly or in situations where they would not do so.
    • Example: Nuclear power plants kept running longer than is safe.
    • Example: Airplanes that take off before they are ready because they are behind schedule.
  • Checklists are useful tools that can increase accuracy and reduce error.

    • Especially helpful for avoiding slips and memory lapses.
    • Most useful when they are redundant, e.g. two people performing the checklist together (one to read the list, the other to execute).
    • Many people are resistant to checklists because the tool questions their competence (ego).

“The only way to reduce the incidence of errors is to admit their existence, to gather together information about them, and thereby to be able to make the appropriate changes to reduce their occurrence. In the absence of data, it is difficult or impossible to make improvements.”

  • Designs need to plan for situations when things go wrong.

    • Minimize chance of error in the design.
    • Perform sensibility checks (easier to do in electronic systems).
    • Allow for reversal or “undo” for certain actions.
    • Feedback for error discovery and correction.

Chapter 6: Design Thinking

  • “One of my rules in consulting is simple: never solve the problem I am asked to solve...because, invariably, the problem I am asked to solve is not the real, fundamental, root problem. It is usually a symptom.”

  • We often rush to solve a problem without question whether or not we are solving the right problem.

  • Engage in the habit of solving the correct problem.

    • Avoid the assumption that problems come neatly packaged or that they can be uncovered and understood at the surface level.
    • Turning back to the HCD can help tease out the true problem.
  • Design thinking: Process of determining the root issues first. Once the real problem is determined, a wide range of solutions are considered. Solution to the problem is only selected after these prior steps are tackled.

  • “Effective design needs to satisfy a large number of constraints and concerns, including shape and form, cost and efficiency, reliability and effectiveness, understandability and usability, the pleasure of the appearance, the pride of ownership, and the joy of actual use.”

  • The Double-Diamond Model of Design

    • Two phases: (1) Find the right problem and (2) Find the right solution.
    • In each phase, initial research results in expanded thinking about the underlying issues. Once a wide range of ideas and solutions are explored, only then does the individual converge back upon a single problem or solution.
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  • The Iterative Cycle of Human-Centered Design (sometimes called the “spiral method”)

    1. Observation
    2. Idea generation (ideation)
    3. Prototyping
    4. Testing
  • Observation: Research to understand the nature of a problem.

    • Design researcher will observe potential customers to discover interests, motives, true needs. This is often qualitative in scope (small numbers of subjects).

    • Ideal case is to observe customers in their natural environment be it home, office, school, etc. (similar to applied ethnography).

    • Design and marketing research are complementary but different:

      • Design wants to know what people really need and how they will use a product.
      • Marketing wants to know if people will purchase the product and how purchasing decisions are made.
    • “Customer research is a tradeoff: deep insights on real needs from a tiny set of people, versus broad, reliable purchasing data from a wide range and large number of people. We need both.”

  • Idea generation: Identifying potential solutions for the design requirements posed from the preceding phase (observation).

    • Generate numerous ideas. Don’t become fixated upon any idea early in the process.
    • Be creative without regard for constraints. Even crazy ideas can contain interesting insights that can be repurposed or incorporated into other ideas. Avoid early dismissal of ideas.
    • Question everything. Stupid questions are ok. Upend your assumptions. Be critical of the status quo. The obvious is rarely so, always dive deeper.
  • Prototyping: Vetting and testing ideas requires a working example or facsimile (no matter how crude or even partially functional).

    • For software and web services, mock-ups I the form of pencil sketches and drawing tools can be used (even spreadsheets, PowerPoint, etc.)
    • For physical products foam and cardboard models can be used for early prototypes.
    • Skits and simulations can be effective for services or automated systems difficult to prototype.
    • “Prototyping during the problem specification phase is done mainly to ensure that the problem is well understood. If the target population is already using something related to the new product, that can be considered a prototype. During the problem solution phase of design, then real prototypes of the proposed solution are invoked.”
  • Testing: Have a test group that reflects your target audience interact, experience, and use the prototype.

    • Pairs or groups of people using the prototype can be helpful to encourage discussion and verbalization of how actions and results are being interpreted (as well as for voicing frustrations).
    • Video recordings of tests can be useful for later review and analysis.
    • “Like prototyping, testing is done in the problem specification phase to ensure that the problem is well understood, then done again in the problem solution phase to ensure that the new design meets the needs and abilities of those who will use it.”
  • Iteration: In HCD, iteration is the repetition of observe-generate-prototype-test cycle in order to refine and enhance a product or service.

    • In some cases you can iterate through parts of the cycle. For instance: repeated iterations of study and testing to determine which parts of a design work and which don’t.
    • Deliberate tests and modifications result in product improvements.
    • Iterative failures should be viewed as learning experiences.
    • “If everything works perfectly, little is learned. Learning occurs when there are difficulties.”

“The hardest part of design is getting the requirements right, which means ensuring that the right problem is being solved, as well as that the solution is appropriate. Requirements made in the abstract are invariably wrong. Requirements produced by asking people what they need are invariably wrong. Requirements are developed by watching people in their natural environment.”

  • “No matter how much time the design team has been allocated, the final results only seem to appear in the last twenty-four hours before the deadline.”

  • Activity-centered design: Focus on activities, not the individual person. Let the activities define the product and its structure.

    • Good for products that work for people universally that have few regional differences or local customization needs.

    • Tasks vs. activities:

      • Activity: A high-level structure. Example : Go shopping. An activity is comprised of multiple tasks.
      • Task: A lower-level component of an activity. Example: Drive to the market. Find a shopping basket. Use a shopping list. A logical grouping of tasks form an activity.
    • A hierarchy of tasks from Charles Carver and Michael Scheier:

      • Be-goals: The highest level of a person’s being. Guide why people act and are long-lasting.
      • Do-goals: The plans and actions to be performed for an activity.
      • Motor-goals: Specifies how actions are performed. These are at the task level (rather than activity level).
    • Focus on activities, not tasks since the activity is more holistic and functions at a higher level.

    • “Design for individuals and the results may be wonderful for the particular people they were designed for, but a mismatch for others. Design for activities and the result will be usable by everyone”

  • Iterative design

    • Traditional design process is linear (aka the waterfall method). Once decisions have been made, going backward in the process is difficult.
    • “The iterative method, however, is best suited for the early design phases of a product, not for the later stages. It also has difficulty scaling its procedures to handle large projects.”
    • “The hardest part of the development of complex products is management: organizing and communicating and synchronizing the many different people, groups, and departmental divisions that are required to make it happen.”
  • The HCD process describes an ideal. But practice and reality can be messier and more chaotic.

  • Norman’s Law: “The day a product development process starts, it is behind schedule and above budget.”

  • “Product development involves an incredible mix of disciplines, from designers to engineers and programmers, manufacturing, packaging, sales, marketing, and service.”

  • “The clash of disciplines can be resolved by multidisciplinary teams whose participants learn to understand and respect the requirements of one another.”

  • The design process must accommodate many constraints including:

    • Conflicting requirements. Examples: Client needs (who are not always the end users), manufacturer limitations, regulatory limitations, budgetary constraints, infrastructure limitations, and so on.
    • Designing for special cases. Examples: left-handed people, blind people, dead people, short people, tall people, people who speak different languages, different sexes, young people, old people and so on.
    • The stigma problem. People with special needs often don’t want special tools that advertise their handicap.

Chapter 7: Design in the World of Business

  • Two forms of product innovation:

    • Incremental innovation: Less glamorous, but more common.
    • Radical innovation: More glamorous, but rarely successful. Upends existing paradigms when successful.
  • Basic competitive dimensions (by real-world importance):

    • Price
    • Features
    • Quality
  • Speed is also important and puts pressures on the design and development process.

  • Featuritis (aka “feature creep”): The phenomenon whereby a successful product keeps adding new features and capabilities to the point that it overcomplicates and obfuscates what was once a simple, elegant, straight-forward solution.

  • Factors that contribute to feature creep:

    • Existing customers want more features, functionality and capabilities.
    • Competing companies add new features that create pressures to match those offerings.
    • Market is saturated or stagnant. Adding new enhancements will boost the upgrade cycle.
  • “New products are invariably more complex, more powerful, and different in size than the first release of a product.”

  • “In her book Different, Harvard professor Youngme Moon argues that it is this attempt to match the competition that causes all products to be the same. When companies try to increase sales by matching every feature of their competitors, they end up hurting themselves. After all, when products from two companies match feature by feature, there is no longer any reason for a customer to prefer one over another”

  • A better strategy is to focus and prioritize areas of strength and extend those capabilities (rather than copy and feature-match wholesale).

  • ““The best products come from ignoring these competing voices and instead focusing on the true needs of the people who use the product.”

  • True customer-centric and customer-driven companies (rather than competition-driven) can avoid feature-creep.

  • “Technology changes rapidly, but people and culture change slowly.”

  • Large companies are generally conservative. Cannot afford to engage in radical new ideas since the failure rate is high. Small companies can attempt crazy new ideas since the are, effectively, built to handle the risk and the cost of failure is relatively low.

  • Stigler’s Law: The names of famous people get attached to ideas even though they had nothing to do with them.

    • Example: The concept of multitouch and touchscreen controls long predated the iPhone and smartphone revolution. The failures that went before paved the way for these innovations but are largely forgotten and overlooked.
    • “A rule of thumb is twenty years from first demonstrations in research laboratories to commercial product, and then a decade or two from first commercial release to widespread adoption.”
  • New technologies have unlocked the creativity of everyone resulting in greater individual innovation and, as a consequence, people engaged in the act of design. Examples: self-publishing, 3D printing, videos, etc.

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