Every Designer Must Read This Book, Here's Why

Ionutz Kazaku

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Important principles that every designer must know.

Are you building your portfolio at the moment?

Maybe you are trying to get your first client?

I understand perfectly how you feel.

At the start of my journey as a designer, I was only doing practice work. I neglected videos, articles or books which could help me enormously. The theory was always the last thing I wanted to spend time on.

I thought it was useless.

After starting to watch designers on Youtube, I realised how much potential I was missing on.

They were all recommending books. One of them is “The Design of Everyday Things”.

That’s when my journey with design theory started and that’s when my design career started to level up.

Here are the 5 principles I learned from the book —

#1: How We Interact With Things

Before we interact with a product, we must understand how to.

Human Centred Design is an approach that puts human needs, capabilities, and behavior first, then designs to accommodate those needs, capabilities, and ways of behaving.

There are 5 principles to understanding how to use a product:

  1. Affordances. The relationship between the object and the capability of the user on how to use it.
  2. Signifiers. Shows where the action should take place: signs, labels, etc.
  3. Mappings. The relationship between 2 sets of things. If a door says push, but it looks like a pull, the mapping between intention and possible action is off.
  4. Feedback. Communicating the results of an action to the user.
  5. Conceptual Models. A simple explanation of how something works.

Good design requires good communication from machine to person, indicating what actions are possible, what is happening, and what is about to happen.

#2: Knowledge in the Head & in the World

The product shouldn’t be difficult to understand.

If the client can’t figure out what is required from the design from preexisting knowledge or they can’t deduce it from the knowledge in front of their eyes, it is the designer to blame.

“It should be easy to go back and forth, to combine the knowledge in the head with that in the world.” — Don Norman.

Make the experience as less complicated as you can.

“Provide meaningful structures. Perhaps a better way is to make memory unnecessary: put the required information in the world.” — Don Norman.

#3: Provide Simple Tasks

Reduce cognitive load for users with technology.

Here are 4 ways technology can help us:

  1. Mental aids. Remind the custumer of something, and provide a note or a list with rules to guide them.
  2. Turn things visible using technology. Graphic illustrations are the best way to give users more control. They visually access the parts of vehicles, structures and products that are impossible to reach.
  3. Automate. You can make life much easier if you automate stuff but, you should also not abuse it. Finding the perfect balance between control and automation is what we need.
  4. Change the nature of the task. Norman gives a good example regarding shoes. When we turn our shoes with laces into the ones with zippers, we change the nature of the task but, we still achieve the aim to put on the shoes.

#4: There Is Only Bad Design, No Human Error

Design problems are human error.

There are 2 types of errors:

  1. When the goal is correct. Required actions aren’t completed properly which leads to the user forgetting what to do.
  2. When the goal is incorrect. Rules of the product changed and the user can’t get used to the new ones.

The Root Cause Analysis can help find the root cause.

The 5 Whys — Japanese process from Toyota. Ask 5 times why.

Our client is refusing to pay for the newspapers.

  1. Why? The delivery was too late so the newspapers were out of date.
  2. Why? The job took longer than expected.
  3. Why? We ran out of ink.
  4. Why? The link was all used for one product.
  5. Why? We didn’t have enough ink in stock so we had to wait for a new supply.

Designers can plan for human error by giving them options to reverse it or fix it when it inevitably occurs.

“Assume that any error, that can be made will be made. Plan for it.” — Don Norman

#5: Make Things Visible

“[a] system should provide actions that match intentions.” — Don Norman.

Designers should make things visible on the execution side so that users know what to do and how to do it. Designers should also make things visible on the evaluation side so that people can tell the effects of their actions.

When people use something, they face two gulfs:

  • Gulf of execution. When they try to figure out how it operates.
  • Gulf of evaluation. When they try to figure out what happened.

It is a designer’s duty to be responsible for the execution and evaluation.

I haven’t covered everything from this book, that’s why I suggest reading it by yourself to get a better understanding of the “logic” behind the design.

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Thanks for reading :)

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