Originally published in 1988 as The Psychology of Everyday Things, Donald Norman’s book is still every bit as relevant today. Technology has come a long way in 17 years, but we’re still struggling with many of the same fundamental design and interaction challenges (plus a ton more). This book is still considered a “Bible” to many people in fields that even remotely border on design. It was especially interesting reading many of his thoughts on early computers. He predicted almost every challenge in human-computer interaction that designers wrestled (and still wrestle) with, even as computers and software have now become “everyday” things to most people. I highly recommend this book to anyone who has some interest in design, psychology, human behavior, or door handles. Trust me, after reading this book, you’ll never look at a door handle (or water faucet, or telephone) the same again.
The unofficial “sequel” to The Design of Everyday Things, this book, published in 2004, answers many of the questions left over from before. The most prominent of these is simply, “Do aesthetics matter?” They certainly do, and there are many other aspects of everyday things that can greatly affect our perceptions of them. Norman dives into a number of different types of emotional responses that people have to objects. How do we connect with the things we use, and why do we take pleasure in using certain things? I actually started this book before I finished the other (I tend to do that a lot), and in this case it worked quite nice. It was almost as if present-day Norman was having a conversation with his 16-year-ago self, discussing what he had learned, and extrapolating on the strict “usability” subject of his older book. In addition to the case studies and examples in Emotional Design, there is a lot more theorizing and predicting than in Everyday Things. In my opinion, this didn’t work quite so well, and the book jumps around quite a bit between things such as bottled water, teapots, videogames and robots. In particular, I think his videogame section really missed the mark. There was a great opportunity to explore the psychology of “play” and the different emotional investment involved in games. In a lot of ways, my problems with this book were the same as with Freakonomics. There are so many different case studies, and examples, and ideas that are explored around the loose theme of “emotional design” that they rarely went as in-depth as I would have liked. Norman, still has a lot of interesting thoughts, and maybe the ideas that seem far-fetched or off-base in this book, are how his predictions in Everyday Things would have seemed to the audience at that time. I would still heartily recommend this book, especially to anyone who enjoyed The Design of Everyday Things. Donald Norman also has an excellent website full of essays and articles he’s written, and a fun section titled In Praise of Good Design listing products he’s found with memorable and useful designs.