The Design of Everyday Things

The world of design encompasses more than just graphic design. Design is all around us but few stop to think that SOMEONE designed it, whatever it is. There is a law that designers of all stripes learn: Form follows function. Even the layperson may have heard this expression. The principle is that the design of something should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.

This may seem like a no-brainer but who among us has ever pushed instead of pulled a door, turned the wrong stove burner, pushed a button to turn something on and ended up turning it off, or read an instructional diagram and thought it was written by a Martian. Design is an act of communication. In fact, most college programs in design are now called Visual Communication, reflecting today’s broader understanding of the discipline. Good design is successful communication.

The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman (available über-cheap online) is an excellent primer on the philosophy behind good design vs. bad design. Although focused primarily on product design, the book’s relevance to the graphic designer is clear: think like the user, not the designer. We do not have the luxury of standing next to every person who encounters our work to explain how easy it is to understand, how simple the package is to open, see, look how effortless it is to unfold our brochure, how easy it is to navigate our website, how clear the directional sign is to understand. We fail as a designer if, pardon to all moms, our mothers can’t figure it out.

Although a bit dated in parts, I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in product or package design and it’s a great read for designers in all fields. The concepts can easily be applied to website design interfaces and game design as well.

Years after reading this book I still encounter objects, products and signage and think, “Bad Design, how could it be better?” A great mental exercise for all designers.

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