Don Norman: Designing For People

Nielsen Norman Group

Recommended Reading

The man who designed the future-Norman Bel Geddes by Barbara Szerlip

07 November 2017

I very much recommend the book. It tells some of the origins of today's design field when designers came from theater and advertising. When they thought big and had lofty ambitions. Szerlip's book makes it clear that Norman Bel Geddes was a brilliant and creative thinker. His $7 million design of GM's Futurama exhibit for the 1939 NY World's Fair ($120 Million in today's money) revolutionized people's thinking about the future. Would I have liked him? Probably not -- but I would have respected him.

Simplicity: A Matter of Design by Per Mollerup

26 December 2015

Mollerup, P. (2015). Simplicity: A matter of design. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: BIS Publishers.I sat down in the living room. I read, turned the pages, read, skimmed, and read again. A long period passed.Then I stood up and announced to the room, "this is a brilliant book!"What more need I say?I loved everything about it: the cover, the typesetting, the book design, the illustrations, and most of all, the commentary. I loved the analysis of the levels of simplicity and...

Positive computing: technology for wellbeing and human potential (Calvo & Peters)

04 January 2015

The design of human-computer systems used to focus upon the negative, the breakdowns that confused and confounded people. Now it is time to move to the next level, to focus upon the positive, systems that are enjoyable and pleasurable. We need systems that delight as well as inform, systems that create pleasure along with useful function. We need systems that are resilient, that promote control, understanding, and sometimes just plain pleasure. The design field has responded by examining the role of emotions and pleasure in design. We need to move these findings into mainstream computing.

Turns Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles

14 December 2014

I am pleased to announce that Diversion Books has released my book of essays, Turn Signals Are the Facial Expressions of Automobiles, as an inexpensive eBook: US $4.99. Available in multiple formats, including Kindle, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google (MOBI and EPUB).

Things That Make Us Smart Available as eBook

14 December 2014

I am pleased to announce that Diversion Books has released Things That Make Us Smart as an inexpensive eBook: US $4.99. Available in multiple formats, including Kindle, Apple, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Google (MOBI and EPUB).

Scenarios of the future: Two histories of the 21st century

09 November 2014

One way to understand what future events might await us is to develop elaborate, complete scenarios of what life might be like as a result of new designs, inventions, and technologies. It isn't enough to describe the potential technologies: the scenario must illustrate how it might be used in everyday life, examining the implications that result. The purpose of this note is to recommend two recent books that expand upon the genre: Adrian Hon's "A History of the Future in 100 Objects" and Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway's "The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View from the Future"

FIRE: How Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant Methods Ignite Innovation. (Dan Ward)

18 May 2014

Large projects tend to fail: Software, construction, new aircraft, it doesn't matter -- they fail. Dan Ward offers a simple solution: don't do them. With the time and money allocated for one large project, do numerous small ones. Do them Fast and Inexpensive, with Restraint and Elegance: FIRE. It's a well-known principle, but it goes against the nature of organizations who wish to solve all their problems with one project. In consumer markets, it the disease I call featuritis. In industry, it's bloat. What's the alternative? FIRE. For anyone even remotely associated with large projects, this eminently sensible, highly readable book is required reading.

The Simplicity Cycle (Dan Ward)

18 January 2014

My Introduction for Dan Ward's book The Simplicity Cycle, but which also includes a description of and a recommendation for his book FIRE. The two books make a powerful package. Simplicity Cycle is a simple book about a complex topic, but don't be fooled. Beneath the simplicity lies a deep and profound message. FIST, the procedure he developed for developing projects quickly and efficiently requires that things be less physically complex, less cognitively confusing and complicated. FIST, the procedure, was renamed FIRE (for Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant), and is now available as a book. The "S" in FIST became this book: The Simplicity Cycle. Not surprisingly, the two books support one another. FIRE, the book, offers lessons highly relevant to The Simplicity Cycle. Large projects all tend to fail. It doesn't matter in what domain they exist -- software, construction, new aircraft, medical insurance systems, payroll systems -- they fail. Ward offers a simple solution: don't do them. With the time and money allocated for one large project, do numerous small ones. Do them Fast and Inexpensive, with Restraint and Elegance: FIRE. It's a well-known principle, but it goes against the nature of organizations who wish to solve all their problems with one project. In consumer markets, it encourages the disease I call featuritis. In industry, it's bloat. What's the alternative? FIRE. How do we avoid unneeded complexity and manage to maintain simplicity? That's the focus of The Simplicity Cycle. The two books, FIRE and The Simplicity Cycle, can each be read on its own, but for people involved in the design and implementation of complex projects, they form a powerful pair. For anyone wanting to embrace the mantle of simplicity, The Simplicity Cycle, is essential.

The cult of the peacock (Brendan Vance)

18 January 2014

Brendan Vance, a game developer and blogger, has written a very nice critique of modern games that he calls "The cult of the peacock." But I do disagree with his complaint about the lack of manuals. Few people ever read manuals -- as is well illustrated in Vance's discussion about them. This is true whether it is a manual for an automobile, a new cooking device a TV set, a computer program or app, or a game. therefore, to me, the important point is to develop devices that are self-explaining, that do not require manuals. In the new edition of Design of Everyday Things I call this property "discoverable." I believe it is possible to design game controls and other features in ways that do not require manuals, especially for experienced game players. Attract screens (remember them?) can serve as tutorials without feeling like one. Similarly, there can be other features whose purpose is to demonstrate and teach but that are so cleverly done that they are not perceived as such.

Designing with the Mind in Mind, 2nd edition. (Jeff Johnson)

07 January 2014

In this valuable traversal of human cognition, Jeff Johnson illuminates its operation and exposes everyday fallacies and misunderstandings through example and explanations. The results provide a useful education for everyone, but one that is essential for designers. If you are curious about the human mind, you will enjoy this book: if you are a designer, you need it.

The Social Machine (Judith Donath)

07 January 2014

Judith Donath's thorough, in-depth look at social media is worthy of detailed, careful reading, but it also wonderfully supports opening at random, then reading and pondering. Want examples? Although interacting with people through technology is not as good as actually being with them, sometimes it can be better. What does it mean to be a stranger in the world of social media? "The stranger," she suggests, "may cease to exist." What do these observations mean for us as people and as a society? A book worthy of repeated reading, repeated pondering.

Cool Tools (Kevin Kelly)

07 January 2014

Cool Tools is a cool book. I've wasted, um, enjoyed, many an hour with it. It is a delight to pick up at random times in the day and to randomly open it up and start reading. As Kevin Kelly says: all these items are listed not because you should buy any of them, but because you might enjoy knowing that they exist. And I do.

Sleights of mind : what the neuroscience of magic reveals about our everyday deceptions (Macknik, Martinez-Conde & Blakeslee)

25 December 2013

A fascinating book revealing the properties of cognition that are manipulated so expertly by magicians to make us believe what they wish us to believe. Learning the tricks only makes them more fascinating. I too have been to the Magic Castle in Los Angeles. I've had tricks explained to me in great, exhausting detail, but nonetheless, still fooled by the very tricks I had just had explained. The skills are amazing. And their understanding of human cognition is astounding. The first two authors are neuroscientists, using their studies of magic to discover new phenomena to explore scientifically. As is usual, the artists and practitioners discover phenomena long before scientists do. The third author is a gifted science writer: the combination of the three makes for engaging reading. I consider myself somewhat knowledgeable about magic and extremely expert about human cognition. But I learned a lot from this book. Highly recommended. Enjoyable reading, while being educational about both magic and cognition.

Foreword: Computers as Theater (Brenda Laurel)

18 October 2013

Theatre is about interaction, about themes and conflicts, goals and approaches to those goals, frustration, success, tension, and then the resolution of those tensions. Theatre is dynamic, changing, always in motion. Our modern technologies with their powerful computers, multiple sensors, communication links and displays are also about interaction, and treating that interaction as Theatre proves to be rich, enlightening and powerful. Real interaction does not take place in the moment, on a fixed, static screen. Real interaction is ongoing over a protracted period. It ebbs and flows, transitions from one state to another. Transitions are as important as states. Up to recently, the only computer systems that acted this way were games. But as students of the theatre have long known, we get the greatest pleasure from our ability to overcome early failures and adversaries. If everything runs perfectly and smoothly with no opportunity to deploy our powers and skills, pleasure is diminished. Human emotion is sensitive to change: starting low and ending high is a far better experience than one that is always high. Is this a cry for deliberate placement of obstacles and confusions? Obviously not, but it is a cry for a look at the temporal dimensions, at engagement, agency, and the rise and fall of dramatic tension. The future of our interactions with technology will build upon the foundations provided by Brenda Laurel in this deep, thought-provoking, and critically important book.

Microinteractions (My Foreword)

02 June 2013

Great microinteraction design requires understanding the people who use the product, what they are trying to accomplish, and the steps they need to take. it requires understanding the context of those interactions. It is essential to develop empathy with the user, to develop observational skills of users and the knowledge of how to combine different aspects of your product - perhaps the results of different programming teams or even different divisions - into a single, smooth microinteraction? Chapter 1 does a great job of introducing the principles of how to do this. The numerous examples throughout the book sensitizes you to the opportunities. After that it is up to you, to continual observation that leads to discovery of the opportunities. And it is essential not to be blocked, as Apple's developers apparently were, if the solutions require cutting across company organizational structures. After all, doing things right for the user is what great products are all about.

Evil by Design (My Foreword)

02 June 2013

Sloth, Pride, Envy, Greed, Lust, Anger, Gluttony. What? I'm supposed to design for these traits? As a human-centered designer, I should be repelled by the thought of designing for such a list. What was Chris Nodder thinking? What was his publisher thinking? This is evil, amplified. Although, come to think of it, those seven deadly sins are human traits. Want to know how people really behave? Just read the law books. Start with one of the most famous set of laws of all, the Ten Commandments. Every one of those commandments is about something that people actually did, and then prohibiting it. All laws are intended to stop or otherwise control human behavior. So, if you want to understand real human behavior, just see what the laws try to stop. The list of seven deadly sins provides a nice, tidy statement of fundamental human behavior, fundamental in the sense that from each of the deadly sins, one can derive a large list of less deadly ones.

Why We Fail (My Foreword)

02 June 2013

Embrace failure, avoid failure: these two, apparently contradictory statements are the opening and closing chapter titles of Victor Lombardi's enchanting, insightful book. Embrace, yet avoid, the apparent contradiction being resolved by recognizing that the trick is to learn from other people's failures, the better to be able to avoid them for yourself. The message of the book is summarized by its subtitle: "Lessons from Experience Design Failures."

Suggested Readings From Design of Everyday Things, Revised edition

19 May 2013

Many people continually ask for my suggestions of readings in design. Here is an excerpt from the "Readings and Notes" section of the 2013 revision and expansion of the book Design of Everyday Things" that provides my list of general books for interaction design. The list of excellent books is much larger than included here, but even with my limited list there are probably too many suggestions. Still, this is a good place to start.

Experience Design: Technology for All the Right Reasons

30 March 2013

This is a brilliant book, written in a lively, engaging style that gets to the essence of experience design. This book should be required reading for designers: experience designers, human-computer interaction designers, user-interface designers, graphical designers, and industrial designers. It moves us beyond the basics and fundamentals toward the higher levels of human values and needs. The examples demonstrate how the ideas can be applied.

The righteous mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion

19 August 2012

An engrossing, important book. This is really three books. For me, the first is the most important, for it spells out clearly and distinctly the arguments that many of us cognitive scientists have been making in the past few years: emotions first, reasoning second. More and more, we are learning that people make rapid, subconscious decisions, driven by past experience, driven by quick (and often shallow) surface features and analyses, and by emotions. Then, afterwards, their reflective systems chime in, offering reasons and logic long after the decision has been made. We reason, goes the new approach in order to justify our decisions to ourselves - that is, to our conscious selves. Our subconscious needs no rationalization. The second book lays out six basic dimensions of morality, common to all peoples, says Haidt. Differences arise because different people, cultures, and societies weight the dimensions very differently. Book three applies these analyses to the domain of religion and politics.

The intention economy: when customers take charge

19 August 2012

The world of business is company-centered. Powerful Information technologies exist to help companies, CRM being one of the most powerful and popular - CRM for Customer Relationship Management. What if all of this was reversed? What if the customers had all the tools? What if every one of us had our own Vendor Relationship Management system, a VRM? What if we owned our own data and collected and mined data about the vendors? What if we could share information about the trustworthiness and reliability of vendors? What if people had the power and companies served us? In this book, Doc Searls shows how we can completely reverse the traditional relationship between people and companies. Read the book. It will change the way you view business. Even if you represent one of the businesses discussed in the book, you will find much to learn, much to enjoy, and new ideas to pursue.

Life at home in the twenty-first century

19 August 2012

An enticing ethnographic study of life in a small sample of families in Los Angeles, California. Ethnography offers the advantage of detailed, in-depth examination of everyday life. This book provides a rich analysis of 32 families in Los Angeles, California. When studied, it yields huge insights into how people arrange their households, organize them, and how they struggle to fit all their numerous activities into their lives. The text and numerous detailed photographs are engrossing.

Disruptive Innovation: Commentary on Christensen

26 March 2012

Clayton Christensen, famous for his several books and many articles on disruptive innovation, provided an excerpt from one of his books for the on-line Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction. The editor, Mads Soegaard, asked if I would write a commentary. Having long been a fan of Christensen's writings, I gladly obliged. The articles that make up this package are all valuable. Read Christensen, then read the commentaries -- not just mine, also read the very excellent comments by Marc Steen (at TNO in the Netherlands) and by Paul Hekkert (from Industrial Design at Delft, the Netherlands). And then, permanently bookmark the Encyclopaedia as a valuable source of critical essays.

Thinking Fast and Slow

11 January 2012

This is an excellent summary of the latest thinking in the psychology of thought judgment, and decision making, written by one of the foremost scholars in the area. Highly recommended. The book covers a wide range of phenomena, producing very important, counter-intuitive insights to many aspects of everyday life. I have long used Kahneman's insights, work and examples in my own thinking and writing. This is a very valuable and easy-to-read review of his lifetime of research.

The origins of the modern world

11 January 2012

Two books that treat history from a non-European point of view, emphasizing the critical role and world leadership, especially in trade, that Asia played until the 1800s. They should be of interest to everyone, but for designers, they help reinforce the notion that western biases have affected the way we think about the world and build products. Both books point out that the claims of European/American superiority in thinking (rational, logical thought) and governance (the rise of democracy) is a modern, western myth. Read at least one of them: it will change your view of world history and of the relative importance of east and west.

The Silicon Jungle: A Novel of Deception, Power, and Internet Intrigue

24 October 2011

This novel portrays a possible, unfortunate future, where privacy is gone and large search companies and governments can track people's every deed, even if they don't do them. The author, Shumeet Baluja, works at Google, and the startup culture depicted in the opening chapter as well as the life in the (fictitious) search company Ubatoo, are well done and extremely realistic. I've seen it all myself. Read it: you will learn how modern search takes place and the various uses to which it is being deployed. Not a pretty picture, even though we all find the results useful. The real question is whether we want this much power in the hands of powerful companies and governments. Note that the companies have much more powerful computational resources than government agencies. We have learned not to trust the government: why should we trust private, profit-driven companies?

Digital Light Field Photography

01 July 2011

Radical changes in the nature of photography are underway in the research labs all across the world. The first fruits of all this research are about to be released in a product available to everyday photographers. Ren Ng's thesis demonstrates a practical system for taking the photograph now and deciding what should be in focus later. And, of course, he has already started a company to make this available to everyone. Read the thesis: easy to read, enjoyable, and it will demonstrate a completely different view of photography: Don't capture an image, capture the light field.

The Encyclopedia of Human Computer Interaction (HCI)

01 July 2011

High recommendations for the Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction now being assembled by Mads Soegaard and the team at The chapters that are now available are all excellent. In addition, Soegaard sent me the Table of Contents (not available to the public) and the breadth and depth of the invited contributions are quite impressive: 56 chapters covering an extremely wide range of topics, all with highly qualified authorities as authors.

Ten Book Recommendations for March 2011

06 March 2011

Ten reviews of important books (Alphabetical by author) (each has its own entry on my website). Anderson: Security engineering. Cooke & Durso: Stories of modern technology failures and cognitive engineering successes. Doctorow: Makers. Gawande: The checklist manifesto. Johnson: Where good ideas come from. Lukic & Katz: Nonobject. Moggridge: Designing media. Morris: Why the West rules -- for now. Pullin: Design meets disability Wu: The master switch: the rise and fall of information empires.

The Master Switch

06 March 2011

Tim Wu, a professor at the Columbia Law school and a fierce defender of Internet neutrality (he invented the term "net neutrality"), has written a great book about the rise and fall of media neutrality throughout American history. Whether it is the early days of motion pictures (when all the film studios were on the east coast, mostly New York), radio, or the telephone, each medium started with individuals able to explore the potential coupled with their own creativity as small, independent entrepreneurs, but as the medium gained respectability and business potential, big business stepped in to take it away, own it, exploit it, and where necessary get the congress to enact legislation giving them control (two notable examples being the rise of RCA in radio and AT&T for the telephone). These companies formed legal monopolies, preventing competition, stifling innovation (but with the side benefits of reliable, dependable products). (Although Wu deplores the takeover, he is honest enough to discuss the virtues of monopolistic control.) The story was repeated for television, FM radio, and now the dominance of cable companies. AT&T was split up into pieces, only today to have rejuvenated itself, where it is now called, AT&T all over again. Newspapers, publishing ... all fell. Will the Internet be next?

Design meets disability

06 March 2011

A powerful, important book. Eyeglasses made the switch from shameful medical appliance, which is how the British National Health Service labeled them, to revered fashion item, so much so that people who didn't need glasses would wear them anyway. If eyeglasses can do it, why not hearing aids, wheelchairs, or walkers? Change stigmas into desirables. Moreover, as the proponents of universal design have long proclaimed, meaningful design aids everyone. This is a powerful book, for not only does it send a strong, welcome message, but it does so with elegance, complete with wonderful photographs aimed at stimulating the imagination and the creative mind. Not all the illustrations are about disabilities. Not all disabilities are disabilities.

Why the West rules -- for now

06 March 2011

A very important book. If you liked Jared Diamond's books, you will definitely like this. It builds upon Diamond's geographical analysis of the growth of civilization, but it goes far beyond, into a cultural history and set of analyses of what is yet to come. This is where the world is moving. Read the book -- It will impact your life.

Designing media

06 March 2011

The ways in which media are conceived, formed, and distributed have long undergone change, but now they are in full revolution. There is nobody better than Bill Moggridge to shed an illuminating beam upon the people behind these changes: not the technologists, but the writers, artists, musicians, editors, publishers, and dreamers who are changing our perceptions of the possible. Moggridge is a master of the interview - getting to the core and then collecting and distilling the essence in brief, insightful vignettes. This book is fun to peruse but even more worthy of thorough digestion, rumination, and reflection.


06 March 2011

This is a visual exploration of space and design, of the interstices between object and space, of .. well, it is just plain fun. But don't just look at the pictures, tantalizing though they may be. It is the text (by Barry K?tz) that illuminates and penetrates the mystery behind the rendered objects (designed by Branko Luki?). Do explore the website as well. And start with the foreword by Bill Moggridge to get you into the right frame of mind -- that is, playful, yet thoughtful.

Where good ideas come from: the natural history of innovation

06 March 2011

Johnson argues that innovation originally came from independent, market-driven entrepreneurs, but that it is rapidly moving to non market driven innovation, created by networks of workers. As he puts it: "The magic square is ... that of decentralized, non-market environments. This is a combination that does not easily fit the standard boxes of capitalism and socialism. Yet in recent years, this quadrant has been a hothouse of innovation, thanks in large part to the open architecture of the internet.

The checklist manifesto.

06 March 2011

A strong argument for a simple, yet powerful tool that can help reduce the incidents of error, accidents, injuries, and deaths: checklists. Extremely successful in commercial aviation, their use in other safety-critical applications is surprisingly controversial. Experts scorned them: "Are you implying I don't know my job?" (The correct response is, "we know you know your job, but you are human working in an environment with many interruptions, distractions, and complexities. Even if the chance of an error is one in a million, given the billions of people in the world, that is not a good enough number: try it, you may be surprised by its value. And even if you don't need it, if you use them, you will set a positive example for all those people who do.") This book makes a strong case for the adoption and use of checklists. Its major focus is on medicine, but the lessons apply everywhere.


06 March 2011

Why a science fiction book? Because Doctorow is one of those deep thinkers who shed light on the future developments of our society and its technology. Doctorow shows the power of inexpensive 3D printers coupled with reclaimed discarded gadgets. While at it he lampoons mega-corporations, the profit motive, the business models that mean that novel ideas can command premium prices until all the imitators produce their own knockoffs at lower and lower prices, either because they have cheaper labor, figured out more efficient manufacturing or design, or are simply les greedy. Then, either one wages a death spiral of continuing lower prices toward unprofitability or it is time to get out and invent something even newer and better. But why? It is in answering the why that the book enters its most important phase: Why not use this creativity and powerful technology to help those who need it the most? Or better yet, to give people the tools to help themselves.

Stories of modern technology failures and cognitive engineering successes

06 March 2011

A fascinating set of stories illustrating how the lack of attention to the needs and capabilities of people can lead technological systems to disaster. Read the book to learn the fascinating stories of what can go wrong once complex systems are deployed without appropriate consideration to the needs and capabilities of people during their design.

Security Engineering

06 March 2011

Security is a critical element of our lives in this interconnected world of invisible computers and sensors. Moreover, the real security issues are not technical, they are people-centered. We must design better security with attention to how people actually behave, otherwise we all will defeat the security in order to get on with our lives. Anderson understands these issues well, and in this mighty, very readable tome, he explains both the technology and also the ways that people can get around it and sneak in. Think your system is safe and secure? Think you will never fall for some scam or phishing attack? Think again: then read this book.I'm incredibly impressed that one person could produce such a thorough coverage. Moreover, he makes the stuff easy and enjoyable to read.

Design-driven innovation: changing the rules of competition by radically innovating what things mean

13 April 2010

The more you believe that human-centered design is important, the more you need to read this book. "Want to be radical? Forget user-centered innovation." Hmm, sounds like something I would say, but in this case it isn't me, it is Roberto Verganti, author of "Design-driven innovation." Verganti argues for a forgotten dimension in products: meaning. The traditional view is technology driven, with most innovation being small, incremental changes and occasional large, dramatic jumps. I have argued that human-centered design is useful for incremental changes, but not for the large, radical transformations (Norman, 2010). Verganti agrees, but adds a critically important new dimension to the argument: meaning.

Two Books on Technology: "The Nature of Technology" & "Technology Matters"

05 December 2009

Technology is important to all of us, and it is critical to understand the role it plays in society. Society, culture, human behavior and technology lay a complex intertwined role together, each mutually influencing the other, so the evolution of each is affected by the evolution of the others.

The Lie Detectors

05 December 2009

Many scientists and tinkerers are driven to discover a machine that will tell us when someone is lying. Unfortunately, many have claimed success, sufficiently so that the machine called a "lie detector" is in common use in police stations, government agencies, and even by some company employment agencies. The lack of scientific evidence for their accuracy is irrelevant. How does this happen? The story is a fascinating one: Ken Alder, a historian of science at Northwestern University tells it wonderfully. Highly recommended.

The measure of all things

05 December 2009

Measurement is of critical importance to science, but as Ken Alder shows in this informative book, scientific activities cannot be separated from the personalities of those involved and the political events of the times. Alder is a historian of technology at Northwestern University who writes of mementoes scientific events with an easy to read simplicity that makes the story fascinating as well as a deep examination of the issues. This story tells of the quest to measure the circumference of the earth by a laborious effort of physical surveying by triangulation from visible site to visible site the from Northern France to Spain (and then basically multiplying by the appropriate factor). These events took place just prior to, during, and after the French revolution, which greatly interfered with the quest. So some fudging of data resulted and supposedly open data collection sets were kept secret. Lots of people got into the act, even Napoleon.

The art of looking sideways

03 August 2009

Fun and inspirational. When I'm searching for ideas or have a great need to be distracted with interesting, fun, creative ideas, I turn to this book - always conveniently stored by my living room couch - and open up to a random page and read a few pages. Works every time. And it has over 500 pages, so this covers innumerable sessions. Brilliant, creative, fun. Is it an important contribution to knowledge? No, not really. Is it essential reading? No, not really. Is it something to read from start to finish? Nope. Will you enjoy it and get inspired? Yup. That's why I recommend it.

Design: History, theory, and practice of product design

03 August 2009

The best book on the history of modern design I have read. Thorough, detailed, complete. Covers everything: architecture, products, services, software from the Romans (briefly) to today. I learned tremendously. I first read the book on my electronic book reader (a Kindle) but the many excellent illustrations are critical to understanding the text, and they are pretty horrid on the Kindle, so I also got the printed book. Big, heavy, expensive - and worth every cent

Standards and their stories

03 August 2009

This engaging book serves several purposes. It explains much of the history, rationale, and politics of standards. It shows why they have huge social impact, far beyond what most of us realize, often far beyond what was intended. And best of all, it is fun to read.

Made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die

03 August 2009

I taught a reading course on design to Northwestern's Kellogg MBA students. The most popular book of all was this one: The book by the Heath brothers, Chip and Dan, "Made to stick." People were applying the ideas in their class presentations even before they had finished reading it, it was that effective. If you want to do away with boring, dull, meaningless talks that do nothing except kill everyone's time - especially that of the nervous, overwrought presenter, buy this book by the gross: hand it out to your friends, employees, bosses, and professors. Hey, we do interesting stuff: our talks should be just as interesting!

Sudjik: The language of things

10 February 2009

Here is the blurb I wrote for the back cover of this book.  It is already available in the UK and will be relased in the United States in 2009.  Sudjic is the director of the Design Museum in London (one of my favorite museums).   How do I sum up this book? "Witty and sophisticated," or is it "seriously funny." A deep penetrating look at the ever-perilous battle among the competing forces of art, fashion, and practicality that designers...

Design Journals

03 January 2009

I am often asked - and I often myself wonder - what research journals I should be reading in the design. here is a short list of ones I find valuable, only one of which (The International Journal of Design) is available on the internet without subscription.

The race for perfect

30 November 2008

An engaging tale of the product development process, this time following the developments in laptop computers, mostly focusing upon the efforts of the ThinkPad team from Lenovo to develop their lightweight X300 portable. Steve Hamm is a senior writer for Business Week, with good contacts and a good sense of drama. The book covers the aims and history of portables from Alan Kay's dream of the "Dynabook" through today. The story demonstrates that reality is very different from dreams, and the quest for perfection with the need to hit a product price and delivery schedule is daunting. The story also reveals much about the international nature of product development: Lenovo is a Chinese company, but the development team was in Beijing, Tokyo, and the United States (North Carolina).

A Potpourri of Books

30 November 2008

For far too many months I have neglected reviewing the many books I have read and enjoyed. So here is a partial catch-up, a long list of books, each with a short review, bringing me roughly up to date as of December 1, 2008.

Game usability

30 November 2008

Even if you are not a game developer, this book should be part of your arsenal: everything we design, everything we build, should incorporate fun, delight, exploration, and surprise. Our devices become part of our lives, not just virtual worlds, but real worlds. Game developers learn through understanding how people interact with the real world: Application developers learn by understanding how people interact within game worlds.


29 November 2008

Vanderbilt covers the myriad aspects of the driving experience. He is a journalist, not a researcher, but for this book, he did his research well, talking with all the major people, uncovering folk lore and scientific lore I never ever heard of, and providing a witty and informative tour of both driving and the role that the auto and modern technology has on society. If you are involved with automobiles, driving, or the design of complex, intelligent products, you must read this book.


29 November 2008

Anything by Cass Sunstein is required reading. (For example, see Nudge, his book with Rich Thaler, reviewed on this website.) A lawyer at Harvard law School, Sunstein writes wisely about the role of groups in decision making, including the downside as well as the upside .An easy to read book about critically important topic. Groups can produce astoundingly accurate results, but they can also be incredibly narrow minded bigots, producing horrifying results: witness mob behavior in riots and lynching.


29 November 2008

This is a fun book, demonstrating how just a few simple principles can give approximate answers to puzzling questions. How far does a soccer player run during an average game? How many people are picking their noses right now? And if all the people on earth were crammed together in one place, how much space would they occupy? What fi we gave each person a house and a small plot of land. To figure these things out you need some basic information, but no worry: Weinstein and Adam tell you how to estimate even that information. A great book, useful too. Students would be far better off if they learned these estimation techniques than some of the other stuff that they are forced to memorize which will never be of value later on; Estimation skills are always valuable.

Why we make mistakes

29 November 2008

Yup, people make mistakes all the time. In his engaging book, Joseph Hallinan entertains us while simultaneously informing us. There have been decades of science devoted to understanding real human behavior, much of it buried in the complex terminology of technical journals. Hallinan brings the science to life, showing how it applies in everyday life to everyday people.


29 November 2008

This is a great book: engaging, informative, and thoroughly delightful. Imagine: deep thoughts in an easy read, with social and legislative suggestions to improve everyone's well being through a constructive, non-coercive (libertarian) social policy. It doesn't matter whether your politics are left or right, up or down: Thaler and Sunstein provide important lessons for structuring social policies so that people still have complete choice, but are gently nudged to do what they wish to do. Well done.

Gut feelings

29 November 2008

Gigerenzer, G. (2007). Gut feelings: the intelligence of the unconscious. New York: Viking. Gerd Gigerenzer and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin have published a compelling series of books about the roles of simple heuristics, the environment, and now, "Gut feelings" in decision making. (Quick, which city is larger: Berlin Germany or Waldorf Germany. You probably don't know the population of either, but there is a powerful heuristic that can help - familiarity. Berlin is a lot more familiar than Waldorf, so it is very likely that it is larger. (Berlin has 3.4 million inhabitants: Waldorf, corporate headquarters of SAP, has about 14 thousand.)

Product Experience

29 November 2008

Schifferstein, H. N. J., & Hekkert, P. (Eds.). (2007). Product Experience: perspectives on human-product interaction. Amsterdam: Elsevier. I wrote the preface, so I am obviously biased. This is a big, heavy book (662 pages) with 27 chapters covering the range of experiences that people have with products divided into three major perspectives: human, interaction, and product. The editors, Hendrik Schifferstein and Paul Hekkert are from the Delft Institute of technology in the Netherlands, but the contributors come from across Europe, Canada, The United States and Japan. Yes, the book is expensive (a bit cheaper on Kindle), but not one a per-chapter basis. There is no equal.

How doctors think

29 November 2008

Groopman, J. E. (2007). How doctors think. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Human error, medical error, decision making and appropriate design. Don't think this book is just for the medical profession. Groopman does a superb job of reviewing the modern literature on decision making, problem solving and human error and showing how it applies to the medical profession. But it doesn't take much thought to see how the same principles apply elsewhere. Highly recommended as a fascinating and voluble tour of the recent scientific literature in these areas and the way they can be applied.

The geography of thought

02 February 2007

Do Asians think differently than Westerners? This important book provides some pretty compelling reasons to think so. In this co-mingled world, where West interacts with East on a continual basis, the more we understand about one another, the better all of us will be. This book is required reading

Handbook of human factors and ergonomics

19 July 2006

I'm often asked for reading suggestions, especially for references to the literature on Human Factors and Ergonomics. In the past few months, I have been reading chapters of one book that has it all: Gavriel Salvendy's massive tome, the Handbook of human factors and ergonomics. It is huge, with over 1,500 pages and 61 chapters. It takes two pages just to list the advisors, ten pages to list the authors of the chapters. It is also expensive: $250. Buy it....

Infrastructure: A field guide to the industrial landscape

29 December 2005

A marvelous, well-illustrated book about the hidden technological infrastructure that keeps our society going. You may not have thought you were interested in these topics, but after reading this book, you will change your mind.

Universal Principles of Design.

29 October 2005

The subtitle tells all: "100 Ways to Enhance Usability, Influence perception, Increase Appeal, Make Better Design Decisions, and Teach Through Design." Now that I have had time to study the book more carefully, all I can add to the subtitle is "Yes!" 100 ways, in alphabetical order, each succinctly explained, each with just a few authoritative references, and each with one page devoted to illustrations of the principle. Absolutely required reading, required owning. Every designer should own it. My students should all read it. What else can I say?

Everything bad is good for you: How today's popular culture is actually making us smarter.

27 August 2005

This book gets an A+ for creativity, originality, and sheer ingeniousness. But creditability? I give it an I: I for Incomplete. Johnson has put forth a delightful argument that the complexity and richness of modern video games, television shows, and movies require so much active participation from its players and viewers, so much active engagement and problem solving, that rather than being the mindless, mind-numbing time-wasters of popular criticism, these activities strengthen problem-solving and reasoning abilities. So read the book. Think about it. Debate it. And please, will some social scientists pick up the cause and do the proper, correct analyses to judge the worthiness of the hypotheses. Until then: not proven.

Intelligent vehicle technology and trends.

27 August 2005

This is an excellent, readable compilation of work on intelligent automobiles around the world — autos that can drive themselves, almost. The Human Factors sections of this book are the weakest — which is why we need more experts in this domain to get involved. The fault, I hasten to add, does not lie in the book: it simply reports the current state of affairs.

Why Art Cannot Be Taught: A Handbook for Art Students.

27 August 2005

This is a fascinating book: enjoyable, educational. But if you are a designer, the lessons it teaches are often just the opposite of what you need to know. It isn't relevant to design because it's about art. Art is not supposed to be about order and rationality and things that can be taught, hence the title of this book. Design must be rational. Design has to work, to be understood, to be functional. It is subject to many constraints about time, cost, and the vagaries of the marketplace. All of these are irrelevant to art — moreover, all of these should be irrelevant to art. Art makes statements. Designs work.

Thoughtless acts? Observations on intuitive design.

24 July 2005

A brilliant book, fun and educational to peruse, and wonderful for training the art of ethnographic observation. This short book is basically all photographs and no text. Indeed, most of the text consists of captions to the figures, and these are all hidden at the back of the book, making it difficult to read along with the photographs. In other words, you have to supply your own interpretations. The result is a brilliant tool for teaching and enhancing one’s observational skills.

On intelligence.

13 February 2005

An important idea -- that the cortex is a predictive mechanism, always predicting what will happen next. The book is oversimplified (which makes it a quick read), and chapters 7 and 8 should be skipped as overhyped rambling, but Chapter 6 as the potential to be an important restatement of brain operation.

Blink: The power of thinking without thinking.

28 January 2005

Blink provides an easy to read, reasonably accurate description of the power of subconscious processing. Basically, Gladwell documents the numerous situations where one's instant, subconscious reactions are more accurate than the later, more reasoned, deliberations. The book provides an excellent set of examples of situations where these instant responses are indeed superior, as well as numerous examples where they aren't. What the book lacks is a decent theoretical explanation. I believe these results come about because we are primarily pattern-matching...

The field guide to human error investigations.

13 September 2004

Sidney Dekker has provided us with a delightful book, well written, filled with engaging tales of accidents and the ensuing investigations, but concluding with a helpful guide to the understanding of accidents and the appropriate way to investigate them.

Six degrees: the science of a connected age.

13 September 2004

The great surprise of this book was how much it taught me about topics I never expected to find within it: how new products spread (diffusion of innovation), the organization of firms, the differences between the spread of disease and the spread of computer viruses.

Funology: from usability to enjoyment.

13 September 2004

A truly excellent collection of papers about the power and importance of fun, pleasure, and emotion in design. Here is an area in which the European researchers lead the way and this book, with three UK editors and one Dutch, puts together a mostly European cast of writers. Highly recommended: A great beginning for this most important and badly neglected area of research. Unfortunately, this is published by an academic publisher who charges ridiculously high prices. And then they will...

Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do.

13 September 2004

BJ (yes, that's how he likes to be called) has created an important new discipline: captology -- computers as persuasive technologies. Captology is of vital importance to everyone: the person in the street, the ethicist, the marketing and advertising person, and of course those who build, deploy, and use modern technology. Today's technology is used to change attitudes and behavior. This creates powerful opportunities, multiple challenges, and severe ethical issues. This powerful, yet easy-to-read book addresses the issues critically, with...

Painting by numbers: Komar and Melamid's scientific guide to art.

13 September 2004

OK, so they are pulling our leg, ok, so they aren't really serious, or scientific. Nonetheless, Komar and Melamid demonstrate most convincingly and amusingly why design should not be done by focus groups. The book is a hell of a lot of fun, besides raising profound questions about the meaning of art. Actually, you could take their argument one step further and say that this book undermines the very concept of user-centered, iterative design. Want design that works for everyone?...

The Science of Star wars.

13 September 2004

— I stumbled across the book by accident, but I found her treatment fascinating, and in the areas at which I am expert, accurate and informative. In particular, Chapter 3, "Droids" (pp. 78-125), contains an excellent review and analysis of the development, form, intelligence and emotions in robots. The emphasis is on C3PO (Threepio) and R2D2 (Artoo), but Cavelos does a truly excellent job of discussing the general issues and developments within AI and robotics in general. Fun reading, and...

101 Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu.

13 September 2004

Every Chindogu is an almost useless object, but not every almost useless object is a Chindogu. In order to transcend the realms of the merely almost useless, and join the ranks of the really almost useless, certain vital criteria must be met. It is these criteria, a set of ten vital tenets, that define the gentle art and philosophy of Chindogu. So begins the creed of Chindogu, a collection of weird and wacky inventions from Japan, guaranteed to be...

Flesh and Machines: How robots will change us.

13 September 2004

— A non-technical book by the inventor of behavior-based architectures for robots, an approach that has revolutionized the field. I believe that robots will indeed come to pass; I mean household robots, probably on wheels, perhaps with legs, and almost definitely stationary robots, built into appliances, as in the pantry/dishwasher, the coffee machine, the cooking/refrigeration unit, and the coffee machine. Then the household robot will scamper about, finding the dirty cups and saucers to deliver to the dishwasher, so it...

Behavior-Based Robots.

13 September 2004

(If you want to learn about the technology behind behavior-based robots, the text I used to teach myself is Ron Arkin's Behavior-Based Robots. 1998: MIT Press.)...

Crypto: How the code rebels beat the government -- saving privacy in the digital age.

13 September 2004

— Steven Levy is a great science writer. First, he understands both the technical side and the human and social side of our technologies. Second, he has a light, engaging writing style that makes even the most complex topics seem simple. Crypto has all of these characteristics. Ever puzzle over the nature of modern encryption? Levy explains how it works in nice, easy to understand manner. This is a topic of critical importance to all of us as we move...

Inner Navigation: How we get lost and how we find our way.

13 September 2004

— Erik Jonsson is a very special person: a retired engineer who has practiced and studied the ways by which people wonder about the world, finding their way -- and losing it. I confess to a very special bias for Erik and this book. I have known Erik for years. I encouraged him to put his ideas into writing and to publish the book. And I wrote the introduction. But why not? To paraphrase my introduction, "I have learned more...

Small Pieces Loosely Joined: A unified theory of the web.

13 September 2004

— David Weinberger writes the lively JOHO journal on the web. This book consists of deep, provocative reflections on the nature of the internet and what it means to our lives. As I said on the back jacket: the best of all combinations: deep, thoughtful commentary written as light easy reading. (Weinberger is one of the authors of "The Cluetrain Manifesto" -- see below Pointer to the book at

Utopian Entrepreneur.

13 September 2004

— Here is what I said about this book for the book jacket blurb: Brenda Laurel's startup company, Purple Moon, failed, but her travails provided powerful learning experiences This engaging book, written in a style that is uniquely Brenda, tells the story. More important, it shows how to move forward to a positive, humanistic culture, where technology and media provide rich, rewarding experiences. Pointer to the book at >...

The Dream Machine: J.C.R. Licklider and the revolution that made computing personal.

13 September 2004

— I am biased, but this is the very best book I have yet read on the development of the Information processing industry -- the PC, the Internet, etc. I lived through this era and know, studied with, or am good friends of a large proportion of people discussed here. It is strange, but when you are living through a revolution, it is invisible. That's why books like this that put everything in perspective are so valuable. Sure, we knew...

Multimedia: From Wagner to virtual reality.

13 September 2004

— Many of the original writings that played so significant a role in developing the modern internet and multimedia revolution are reprinted in the truly excellent compilation edited by Packer and Jordan. Many of the papers that had profound impact upon my development -- to say nothing of that of the entire industry -- are all here: papers by Norbert Wiener, JCR Licklider, Doug Engelbart, Myron Krueger, Alan Kay, Vannevar Bush, Ted Nelson Tim Berners-Lee, and Ivan Sutherland. A truly...

Where the Action Is: The foundations of embodied interaction.

13 September 2004

— Yet another book for which I wrote the book jacket blurb, but once again, because I truly believe this to be an important study. As I wrote for the book jacket: A revolution in design and the role of computer science is upon us: Where the Action Is describes the way. In the old days, the focus was upon the technology and "computing," hence the interest in the interface between humans and machines -- us versus them. Not anymore....

The Myth of the Paperless Office.

13 September 2004

— An important book, not just about paper but about how people accomplish their work. Here is how I put it on the book jacket: Paper is the old-fashioned technology that refuses to die -- and for good reason. As this pioneering study by Sellen and Harper shows, paper supports many needs and work styles better than any other medium. As a result, paper is the perfect complement to electronic documents, superior at many things, inferior at many. Want to...

The Forgotten Arts and Crafts.

13 September 2004

— If you liked "The Psychology of Everyday Things, you should love this one. It's about folk design, folk art, folk construction. I pick up the book and read at random, learning all the while, fascinated all the while. Stiles – what a marvelous set of inventions -- affording passage by humans and the anti-affordance of non-passage by animals, but requiring different solutions for different animals. How all sorts of things were made -- cider, paper, lye and soap, cheese,...

Why We Buy: The science of shopping.

13 September 2004

— Take human-centered design principles, especially that of ethnographic field study, and apply it to department stores, shops, and any place where people go to buy. The result is a wonderful treasure house of important observations. Underhill's results seem like common sense -- which is how you know they are both correct and very much uncommon. Pointer to the book at >...

Information Appliances and Beyond.

13 September 2004

— My book "The Invisible Computer" explains the "why" of Information appliances, this one explains the "how." This is an excellent collection of how to do it stories. If you are in this business, get the book. (Disclaimer: Chapter 1 is "A Conversation with Don Norman". This link goes to the Morgan Kaufmann Publishers site.) Pointer to the book at >...

Secrets & Lies: Digital security in a networked world.

13 September 2004

— In the end, security depends upon people. You can have the most powerful encryption in the world, but the weak link is the systems, procedures, and people who implement them. There is a nasty tradeoff between ease of use (and systems appropriate for people) and systems that are safe, secret, and secure. Practice so-called "good" security, and you end up with unlearnable passcodes. Worse, with dozens of unlearnable codes, each of which should be changed monthly. What do people...

When Things Start to Think.

13 September 2004

— A book often paired with "The invisible Computer" by reviewers: Gershenfeld is a physicist at the MIT Media lab who develops powerful technology and then uses that technology to create a plethora of clever, creative information appliances -- ones you would never have thought of yourself, but once you see them you say, "yeah, I could use that!" Pointer to the book at >...

The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual.

13 September 2004

— I told them not to write it, but they did it anyway. Four weirdoes who seem to think that companies should treat their customers with respect, that software should work, that websites should deliver value. If you can stand this kind of nonsense, written with a non-stop hypnotic fervor that defies logic, reason, and emotion. Well, what can I say? Hell, I even subscribe to David Weinberger's JOHO Journal and Chris Locke's Rageboy (that's his alternative personality). And see...

How the Mind Works.

13 September 2004

— Witty, erudite, complete, opinionated. But I happen to agree with the opinions. I have only one regret about this book – jealousy. This is the book I have always wanted to write. Pointer to the book at >...

The book on the bookshelf.

13 September 2004

— I always read everything written by Petroski. Erudite essays on everyday things, the pencil, bridges, engineering design, and now bookshelves. In this, his most recent work, a fascinating look at the history of bookshelves, libraries and printing practices, he describes my visit to his home and his annoyance that I was more interested in the books on his bookshelves than in the shelves themselves. Ah well. Pointer to the book at >...

Information Rules: A Strategic Guide to the Network Economy.

13 September 2004

— This "new" Internet economy isn't that new: it is still governed by the standard economic principles. What is new is the emphasis on such concepts as lock-in, cost of switching (how much time, money, and effort a customer must expend to switch from one competitive product to another), the importance of intellectual property rights, standards, the impact of network effects, and positive feedback. In The Invisible Computer I distinguished between substitutable and non-substitutable goods. This book provides a richer...


Keynote Addresses and Schedule

Don Norman
Contact information, bios, press photos, ...

Examples of talks (Videos)
Design of Everyday Things, Revised and Expanded Edition (DOET2), paperback and eBook.

Fundamentals (Chapters 1 and 2)  -- now available
This course has design exercises by Kristian Simsarian, IDEO Fellow and head of interaction design at CCA. Reflective thinking exercises implemented by Chelsey Glasson

See these excerpts


I am declining travel requests not directly related to the establishment of the Design Lab at U.C. San Diego. Trips, where I have zero spare time, are not listed.