StudyBoss » Book Review » The Analysis Of The Book "The Design Of Everyday Things" By Don Norman

The Analysis Of The Book "The Design Of Everyday Things" By Don Norman

Table of Contents


This report is based upon the book The Design of Everyday Things; a revised and expanded edition, written by Don Norman. The report focuses on the key principles for each chapter.

Author details

Donald Arthur Norman, commonly known as Don Norman is regarded for his expertise in fields such as cognitive science, usability engineering, and design. He is currently the director of University of California’s The Design Lab. He also runs his company; Advanced Technology at Apple, which enables companies to produce human-centered commodities. The Design of Everyday Things was published by Basic Books and is copyrighted 2013 by Don Norman (Norman, 2013). It spearheaded the implementation of cognitive science in design.


The book focuses on principles that seek to explain how individuals manage to interact with unusual natural or artificial objects, which might or not be similar to those aware to them. Chapter one focuses on the importance of affordances and signifiers in designing and whose characteristics are in line with the expected qualities of a good design including understanding and discoverability. It highlights that for effectiveness, affordances and anti-affordances should be perceivable. For example, a bed affords support and, hence affords lying. Nonetheless, some beds can be carried by a single being; thus afford lifting, while others can be carried by many people or only a strong person. As such, if weak individuals cannot carry a bed, then it has no affordance to them hence the object does not afford lifting by the agent.

The chapter also enlightens on signifiers as perceivable indicators that communicate where an action should occur hence dictating the appropriate behavior by an individual (Norman, 2013). For instance, using the absence of people waiting at a bus station to establish whether one has missed the bus. The book indicates that signifiers are signaling elements of affordances, which help individuals figure out possible actions without the need for instructions. For instance, a handle on a door is both signifier and perceived affordance .Additionally, with regards to technology, the book poses signifiers to comprise internal models on the meanings behind and the operation of things. Thus, this chapter focuses on the interplay between people and technology thus ensuring that products fulfill human needs while being usable and understandable.

Chapter two emphasizes on the effort necessitated to interpret an object and determine how well its expectations have been met through the seven-stage action. The process facilitates understanding human action and guides design. For instance, the lack of light make reading difficult, which triggers turning on of light is triggered the sub goal of getting lighter to achieve the main purpose –reading. A second instance is where an individual buys a book for the sole need of a finishing an assignment. The chapter highlights that reflective, behavioral and visceral levels of processing interplay to determine a person needs and tastes of a commodity (Norman, 2013). For instance, when an individual has positive experiences with an object, the visceral response is an immediate positive perception, the reflective response is a deep evaluation of the experience while the behavioral response is recommending the product.

Chapter three highlights that precise behavior can arise from imprecise knowledge, which enables people to survive in novel and confusing situations where they no nothing of what is expected of them. For example, individuals lacking knowledge about common currency notes, although they can distinguish one currency value from another. Another instance is the signal lights on an industrial equipment, which indicate knowledge in the world. Individuals avoid confusion though discrimination by distinguishing features. Mapping is an example of the power behind combining the head and world’s knowledge as it is a relationship between the components of two sets of objects. For instance, waving a hand in front of a towel dispenser but getting no towel thus causing one to wonder whether the dispenser is out of towels or broken, or that the hand was wrongly positioned. However, mapping varies with culture such as different cultures represent time lines vertically while others use horizontal time lines. Therefore, this chapter emphasizes on how knowledge in the head combines with that in the world and on how individuals acquire and use knowledge.

Chapter four outlines that constraints are clues that limiting a set of possible behavior or actions hence allowing individuals to choose the appropriate deed in a novel situation. For instance, the design of a key; the smooth and the jagged sides, limits how it is inserted in a lock. Signifiers, affordances, constraints, signifiers, and mappings simplify encounters with natural or artificial objects (Joshi, Nash & Ransom, 2008). For instance, a socket affords connecting, the hollow and design in a signifier, the fixed holed for a charger is a constraint. Failure to deploy the simplifiers could result into issues. For instance, not knowing how to operate a cabinet door can prove frustrating as it can be lifted, pulled, pushed, or slid. Culture, through convections, provide knowledge as to how individuals should behave. For instance, it is a worldwide convention that screw threads tighten upon clockwise turning, and loosen with counterclockwise. Thus, this chapter enlightens on how designers can offer critical information that would allow individuals be aware of what to do, especially when encountering unfamiliar situations or devices.

Chapter five depicts that errors occur due to interruptions, people’s attitudes towards errors and the nature of procedures and tasks that require unnatural behaviors from individuals. For instance, staying alert for hours while multitasking can result in an error in one or more of the tasks being handled. Root cause analysis should be used to establish an error’s underlying cause rather than the proximate cause as most accidents have multiple causes. For instance, if a machine stops working, the causes could be a faulty cable, a broken machine part, or due to overloading among others. The “Five Whys” approach can be used to analyze the root cause (Norman, 2013). An error can be a slip; where the required actions for an original goal are inappropriately done, or a mistake; where the goal itself is unjustified. For instance, a slip can be forgetting to turn off a burner after cooking while a mistake can be failing to complete a troubleshooting session due to distraction. Errors can be understood by reference to the seven-stage action process. Thus, it illuminates on how to determine and minimize the opportunities for and mitigating the consequences related to errors.

Chapter six indicates that Human-centered design (HCD) ensures that individuals’ needs are met in that that the resulting commodity is usable and understandable (Endsley, 2016). For instance, a device should be cost effective, reliable, effective, and instill pride of ownership. In the Double-Diamond Model of Design, a designer questions the problem, expands the problem’s scope, diverges to examine underlying fundamental issues, and converges upon a problem statement (Tschimmel, 2012). Designing faces various challenges including the multiple conflicting requirements of a product. For instance, some individual’s prefer cabinet doors that slid and are light while others prefer those that can be pulled and are heavy. Complexity is necessary and is related to knowledge. For example, someone else’s cabinet looks confusing and complicated, but one’s own cabinet does not. As such, the confusion is that knowledge since one is not familiar with the other person’s cabinet. Overall, this chapter highlights on the sources conflicting requirements and how they can be solved, which includes compromises by all involved stakeholders.

Chapter seven focuses on other factors that affect product development rather than the human-centered design concerns. It highlights on the effect of competitive forces in driving the introduction of a product’s extra features. For instance, in a bid to remain competitive a company might decide to add extra futures in its product to outdo that of its rival in the market. New technologies also drive the development of new products. For instance, the development of portable smartphones resulted in the demise of keyboard telephones hence changing the manner of communicating. Incremental innovation involves making improvements on existing products while radical innovation involves creating a product from a new idea due to possible new capabilities (Norman, 2013). For example, vehicles initially operated under steam and later evolved to commercial automobiles, which is ac incremental innovation. The chapter concludes by indicating that as technologies change, people also change. For instance, so far the technological advancements in hearing-aid devices have improved the abilities of deaf people. Thus, this chapter determines the impact of technological advancements and competitive forces in design.


The principles advocated in the book are becoming more important with the accelerating pace in technological change. Moreover, compared to the original copy, this edition contains new ideas and examples with regards to product development and design, which makes it more essential. The work-piece supports the possibility of usable design by exploiting natural connections that couple control and functioning and using constraints in an intelligent manner. Additionally, the book postulates design as a crucial factor for regaining competitive advantage in influencing the behavior of consumers. Thus, the book explains on the reasons as to why some commodities satisfy a particular consumer’s needs while others only exasperate.


  1. Endsley, M. R. (2016). Designing for situation awareness: An approach to user-centered design. Florida: CRC press.
  2. Joshi, M., Nash, D. B., & Ransom, S. B. (2008). The healthcare quality book: vision, strategy, and tools. E. R. Ransom (Ed.). Chicago: Health Administration Press.
  3. Norman, D. (2013). The design of everyday things: Revised and expanded edition. New York: Basic Books.
  4. Tschimmel, K. (2012). Design thinking as an effective Toolkit for Innovation. In ISPIM Conference Proceedings (p. 1). The International Society for Professional Innovation Management (ISPIM).
Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment