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Reflecting on The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

Don Norman's book on my desk with a highlighter and pencil.
Don Norman's book on my desk with a highlighter and pencil.

It's been a while since I've read "The Design of Everyday Things" by Don Norman, but I cracked it open today and pulled together a few reflections on the key takeaways that have stuck with me over the past few years:

Discoverability

You can’t show all the intricate details of how something works upfront, but you can give them a clear path to discover how it works. Discoverability is a tool that designers can use as a way to provide simple and easy interactions to complex situations. It can hide complexity and make product experiences feel ‘intuitive’.

Affordances

Every action by a user needs a point of engagement. These points of engagement allow a user to take control of a situation. Each is an affordance. It’s like an outlet in a wall or a handle on a door. When we intentionally deploy these affordances well, it makes experiences delightful. But when we create false affordances, it makes experienced dreadful. That’s why testing is so important. Since we’re creating these affordances we are biased to use the ones we intentionally place. Testing helps expose where our affordances aren’t working well, so we can improve them.

Designing for Business

It’s not all about the user. There’s a ‘between-ness’ where designers often have to connect both the business and user needs in harmony. A designer’s success hinges on the ability to design for the user to succeed in harmony with the business. Especially in the world of Product Design, designers must grapple with business challenges on a regular basis. Without the success of the user, products and services will fail. However, without the success of the business, we cannot serve the user. Both user and business must work together in harmony. This is the job of Product Designers and UX Designers.

Burden of Complexity

This book has really opened my eyes to the concept of complexity as a burden. Designers do their best to simplify solutions, but even the most elegant solutions still have some level of complexity (a burden). So, a key question we can answer is how to keep the burden of complexity off of the user? The systems we work within and work to create can make all the difference in our ability to create simple, delightful experiences for people.

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If you haven't read this classic design book by Don Norman, I recommend you do. Grab copy using the affiliate links below (it'll help me continue producing this kind of writing):

You'll be glad you read it!

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