The Design of Everyday Things

I’ve been reading the book The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman this week. It’s really cool. It covers many of the same things as the behavioral economics master class link I posted a couple of days ago. It’s all about how things are often poorly designed, so they don’t make it obvious, in a sub-conscious way, how to use the thing. Stovetops with all the knobs on the side, so you have no idea which knob operates which burner without looking at the little labels. Phones with a zillion features, but you can’t figure out how to put someone on hold, or transfer the call to someone else in the office. Doors that need an instruction manual, even if it’s only one word.

Norman explains that the design of these things is flawed, not the person operating them. And he explains why. It’s because of the way the human brain works. Interestingly for me, in a book written 10 years ago, he’s talking about very similar concepts as a more recent book: Brain Rules, by John Medina.

These ideas all echo those of my own, long held, and picked up from these and a variety of other sources. So much of the world is badly designed, poorly optimised, or just plain broken. I’ve been railing against it all for so long, across a variety of fields: process and procedure in IT, design of systems, documentation (design and layout), and I keep seeing the same class of problems. It’s gratifying to see that I’m not alone. There is a wealth of knowledge out there about how broken this stuff is, and that it should be fixed.

I’m so passionate about these ideas that I’m currently toying with the idea of starting a blog dedicated to the concept. The working title is “Mine’s Broken”, said in a whiny and annoying voice as only a 5 year old can. It would cover every aspect of the brokenness of modern life. Badly designed user interfaces, websites, procedures, signage, objects. An amalgam of FailBlog,, even FuckedCompany. There’s a lot of FAIL out there. But then, I FAIL at updating this one as it is.

So what do you think? Would you read a blog about brokenness and how to fix it?

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