Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Design of Everyday Things

In this book by Donald A. Norman, he discusses various aspects of design that make a good design good and a bad design bad. At the risk of oversimplifying, he argues that designs should be made to be 'Idiot Proof:' a user should not be able to slide a door that requires pushing, or push a tap that requires turning. Mappings between the controls and the objects should be straightforward and intuitive. Users should be able to make an error but recover from it, and they should be able to explore the system on their own.

While I agree with most of his points, I felt that the book was more of a reiterative rant than a constructive criticism. Only occasionally did he note that the designs he had come up with were impractical for standardization or too costly. I also feel that he did not give enough weight to the use of objects by expert users. He seemed to assume every one using the device was a strict beginner. 

I also feel that his discussions are dated. I feel that design has come a long way from its place in the late 80's. I feel that he has quite accurately predicted the evolution of many everyday things. I feel that the telephone today is what he had envisioned 20 years ago. The computer is also closer to what he had envisioned.

However, I must disagree with some of his thoughts on computers. As a computer scientist, I actually enjoy working in the command environment. Indeed, I think it is easier to navigate and accomplish certain tasks that it would be to use GUI's all the time. I enjoy being able to use nonsensical keyboard shortcuts to minimize the time I need to use the mouse to carefully select what I want. As an expert user of computer systems, I would feel held back if I could only use tools for beginners.

I agree that novice tools are important, and I agree with most of Donald A. Norman's ideas - I found the book to be a fun light hearted read - but I also feel that shortcuts and perhaps unintuitive symbols can be useful to a more advanced user.