Norman Looks at Normal Things
"What book has changed your life?" is one of those standard interview questions that usually prompts replies from the religion and self-help categories. But at least one of my answers belongs under both business and psychology. It is The Design of Everyday Things, by Donald Norman. Norman is a professor and consultant/advocate for "human-centered design." In short, he's a usability guru.
I first read The Design of Everyday Things in 1990, while doing graduate work in Interactive Media Development at RIT. It not only helped me look at usability issues for interface design; it made me look at everything from an ease-of-use standpoint. It gave me a greater appreciation for those things that work elegantly—and some insights for analyzing those that don't.
The cover sets the tone with an amusing example of bad (and, thankfully, soley satirical) design: a "coffeepot for masochists," which has the spout and handle on the same side. From there, Norman delves into just what the title indicates. Why are stovetop burners arranged in a rectangle, but their controls in a line? Why are so many doors so badly designed that they must include instructions?
With expertise spanning engineering, computer science, psychology, and cognitive science, Norman understands how things are designed and made, as well as how people react to them physically and respond to them emotionally.
The Design of Everyday Things was first published in 1988 as The Psychology of Everyday Things. The title was changed for the paperback version in 1990. Another edition came out in 2002. If you're interested in Norman's more recent books, look for Emotional Design, The Design of Future Things, and People Are From Earth, Machines Are From Outer Space. I think you'll find his perceptiveness as enlightening as I do.
As for me, I'll always remember The Design of Everyday Things as the book that enlisted me as an advocate for human-centered design.
Find more about/from Norman at his website.