The Design of Everyday Things

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The Design of Everyday Things
First edition (original title)
AuthorDonald Norman
Original titleThe Psychology of Everyday Things
CountryUnited States
GenreDesign, Psychology, Business
PublisherBasic Books
Publication date

The Design of Everyday Things is a best-selling[1] book by cognitive scientist and usability engineer Donald Norman about how design serves as the communication between object and user, and how to optimize that conduit of communication in order to make the experience of using the object pleasurable. One of the main premises of the book is that although people are often keen to blame themselves when objects appear to malfunction, it is not the fault of the user but rather the lack of intuitive guidance that should be present in the design.

The book was originally published in 1988 with the title The Psychology of Everyday Things. Norman said his academic peers liked that title, but believed the new title better conveyed the content of the book and better attracted interested readers.[2]: ix  It is often referred to by the initialisms POET and DOET.

Norman uses case studies to describe the psychology behind what he deems good and bad design, and proposes design principles. The book spans several disciplines including behavioral psychology, ergonomics, and design practice.

A major update of the book, The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition, was published in 2013. In that edition, Norman updates his use of the term affordances to that of signifiers, and provides a detailed discussion.[3]


In the book, Norman introduced the term affordance as it applied to design,[4]: 282  borrowing James J. Gibson's concept from ecological psychology.[1] Examples of affordances are flat plates on doors meant to be pushed, small finger-size push-buttons, and long and rounded bars we intuitively use as handles. As Norman used the term, the plate or button affords pushing, while the bar or handle affords pulling.[4]: 282–3 [5]: 9  Norman discussed door handles at length.[6][5]: 10, 87–92 

He also popularized the term user-centered design, which he had previously referred to in User-Centered System Design in 1986.[7] He used the term to describe design based on the needs of the user, leaving aside, what he deemed secondary issues like aesthetics. User-centered design involves simplifying the structure of tasks, making things visible, getting the mapping right, exploiting the powers of constraint, designing for error, explaining affordances, and seven stages of action. He went to great lengths to define and explain these terms in detail, giving examples following and going against the advice given and pointing out the consequences.

Other topics of the book include:

  • The Psychopathology of Everyday Things
  • The Psychology of Everyday Actions
  • Knowledge in the Head and in the World
  • Knowing What to Do
  • To Err Is Human
  • Human-Centered Design
  • The Design Challenge

After a group of industrial designers felt affronted after reading an early draft, Norman rewrote the book to make it more sympathetic to the profession.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Durham, Tony (November 6, 1998). "Science of the appliance". Times Higher Education. London.
  2. ^ Norman, Donald (1988). "Preface to the 2002 Edition". The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-06710-7.
  3. ^ Norman, Donald A. (2013). The design of everyday things (Revised and expandes editons ed.). Cambridge, MA London: The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-52567-1.
  4. ^ a b Cooper, Alan; Reimann, Robert; Cronin, Dave (2007). About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design. Indianapolis, Indiana: Wiley. p. 610. ISBN 978-0-470-08411-3. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
  5. ^ a b Norman, Donald (1988). The Design of Everyday Things. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-06710-7.
  6. ^ Binstock, Andrew (September 6, 1999). "New Mantra: Usability". Information Week.
  7. ^ Friess, Erin (March 2008). The User-Centered Design Process: Novice Designers' Use of Evidence in Designing from Data (PhD thesis). Carnegie Mellon University. Retrieved November 22, 2011.

Further reading[edit]

  • O'Dwyer, Davin (December 12, 2009). "Grand designs". The Irish Times. Retrieved November 22, 2011.