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The Design of Everyday Things

Kirjoittanut: Cyril Adler - tiimistä Avanteam.

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The Design of Everyday Things
Don Norman
Esseen arvioitu lukuaika on 8 minuuttia.

The Design of Everyday Things

Design is ubiquitous in our everyday life. Almost every object we see, touch, or use has at some point been tough of and modified by a designer. Design brings together technologies, people, business, politics, commerce, and cultures in order to help people in their everyday life (Norman, 1988). In his book, The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman explains his philosophy behind the term Human Centred Design. He focuses more particularly on the Double Diamond Method aimed at creating a better design when it comes to meet human needs and capabilities. He is also a core believer in the fact that different needs must be solved by different products and vice-versa.

A core issue in design is the difficulty in finding an appropriate problem. Oftentimes, the problems put forth by customers are not truly the ones in need of solving, they event tend to be solutions on their own right. They are merely the symptoms of a deeper problem, and akin to certain illnesses curing the symptoms without solving the root cause might lead to more difficulties than doing nothing at all. To avoid creating the right solutions to the wrong problems it is recommended to consider any problem statement more as a suggestion/guideline that the problem itself (Norman, 1988).

The Double Diamond Method

Too solve the root cause of any problem we then must start by working backwards. To find the right problem we must first diverge from the customer original suggestion and widen our perspective. All the ideas and observations collected in this first part must then converge toward a generation of potential ideas to solve the problem. All those possible solutions must then be developed into a functioning prototype. It must then be thoroughly assessed and evaluated before being delivered to the initial customer.

This is the basic framework of the double diamond. It is important to note here that it is an iterative process requiring the designer to stay humble and be ready to fail fast and repeat the process many times. Moreover, it is a timely process requiring a complete and competent team of workers and designer. It is illusory to think that a proper design process could be done in three weeks by a single individual from the comfort of his/her office. Furthermore, each of the four steps of design has some specificities that must be respected (Norman, 1988).

  1. Observation:

This is perhaps the most important and less understood part of the design process. It is also the phases that takes up the most time as all work based upon an improper observation would be skewed, biased and ultimately inaccurate.

The observation shall focus of customers in their daily life and in real situation, this is vital because it is the only way to collect unbiased data that will allow to accurately pinpoint the root cause of the issue. This part of observation is a specialty field by itself, it is named applied ethnography it consists of noticing the subtle changes it people behaviour when interacting with an object or an interface. It focuses first and foremost on the activities undertaken by the observee. They can then be compared through different cultures, age groups and professions.

Direct observation is often preferred to questionnaires as it eliminates the risk of biases from the participants. One such bias is the called the “Stigma Problem”. Many people do not want to admit having a problem whether to someone else or to themselves. They will then avoid admitting or using things that may help them but might also advertise their vulnerabilities like a cane of a walker. The solution to that is to design object that correct for vulnerability while being usable by anyone. Furthermore, it is important to remember that the goal of design is to create things that are suitable for the way people uses them and not for the way people think they will use them (Norman, 1988)…

It is also during the observation phase that the underlining issues, the root cause of the customer complaints is identified.

  1. Generation/Ideation

Only once the customer habits have been properly documented of the original dully identify, clarified and written down can the work of ideation and generation can begin.

During this phase the goal is to generate as many ideas for possible solutions as possible withing a given timeframe. When doing so, it is important to disregard constraints either financial or practical as even obviously wrong ideas can carry and help lead to right reasoning. This is also the phase where everything needs to be questioned by the designer, including the findings of the previous observation phase.

Questioning everything allows for a better analysis and understanding of the findings made earlier and for the creation of a proper solution considering every aspect that must be included. One must not be afraid of asking even so-called stupid questions. The advantage of questioning the obvious is that is allows to review the fundamentals of the projects. It also ensures that everyone on the design teams is on the same page, it is often the case that someone’s vision what is obvious differs greatly from someone else’s perception of the same subject.

  • Prototyping

Once many plausible options/solutions have been generated by the design team it is time to try and find the right solution, the one offering to solve the original issues effectively while not creating news one for the consumers. This is a crucial phase where theory makes way to practice. In theory any inconsistencies of defect should have been identified in the previous phase during questioning. But there is a saying about the difference between theory and practice: “In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is”.

The fundamental goals of prototyping are to do two things:

  1. Ensure the original problem is well understood,
  2. Ensure the considered solution is feasible in reality.

To ground theory in reality and to evaluate its accuracy, it is important to create a real working prototype of the possible solutions. Of course, the prototype does not need to be a functioning version of the thought solution it only needs to emulate the way it might look or work. For instance, if there is a need to emulate a search engine, the prototype might include a real person behind a computer answering the users query. Similarly, when trying to prototype an app, a series of drawing and/or static pages might just do the trick.

It is only now that the designers can really feel their design and evaluate the real cost of there product or solution. It is also when creating the prototype that it become possible to realise some inconsistencies or flaws in the design and change it.

  1. Testing

After prototyping the possible solutions, the design team must then test their prototypes in real world condition. To this effect it is then presented to a few testers (five is the book’s recommended amount) ideally chosen to be representative of the target market. For activities that only require one user, it is still recommended to form pairs of testers as this allows the flow of information between participants and might put forward some valuable information. The design team can then observe in which activities the testers partakes when interacting with the prototype. It is often best to record everything on tape so that actions can be more thoroughly analysed later. The design team is also encouraged to question the test subject about their behaviours and understand the reasons behind them.

They can then look for any inconsistencies in their theory regarding the activities required to be performed by the testers. They can then evaluate their solution and see if it just needs to be refined of completely rethought.

  1. Iteration

A solution is almost never perfect from the get-go this is why design is an iterative process. If at any points, there seem to be something wrong with the previous phases it is recommended to go back and work on it. And if the testing phases reveal that the prototype is worthless there is always ideas that can be salvaged and reused to improve iteration two. It is just important to remember that it is okay to fail, but fail fast!


(International Coaching Federation, 2020)

Design Thinking

What is the real problem? How to solve this problem, how designers focus on trying to understand the real issues, the ones that matter and specially, the “how”? This is design thinking.

Easily put into words – generating more ideas than average designers would target, in other words going back and forth, exploring the past, the present and the future as well as; seeking new directions with different ways and techniques to unravel more ideas for the given problematic. Thinking any possibilities with a specific framework where we find the Human Centered Design.

What is human centered design?

The book focuses in this design ensuring that the result of the design fits the human desire, needs and capabilities. The purpose of products is for people to use them in their most colloquial day to day lives. Targeting humans, period.

This type of design thinking where the author mentions the path in which a designer tries to solve the real problem, since research shows that most of the times the focus can be in different non vital problems. Focusing in different solutions for the same problem, giving a wide range of possibilities towards the same crossroad in which they expose their findings and call them proposals.

Two main tools in which design thinking consists: the previous mentioned Double Diamond Design and hereby presented Human Centered Design.

Human Centered Design

Solving the right problem focusing in human needs and capabilities. Both methods encounter the following: 4 stages.

  1. Observation: Meaning the research about the final customers truer needs in their daily lives in overall (applied ethnography) determining human needs.
  2. Idea generation: “The fun part of design” the creativity within the team of designers is critical for this step in HCD. Where questioning everything is a must.
  3. Prototyping: Utilizing mockups and the Wizard of Oz technique. “The Wizard of Oz is a research method where a participant interacts with an interface, system or physical object. This system, though, is operated by an unseen person.” (DAHLBÄCK, JÖNSSON, & AHRENBERG, 1990).
  4. Testing: Put it into practice with the desired target population. No one else. This way, finding and solving the right problem.


Market research vs Design Research

Quantitative responses target a larger number of people better refer as market analytics. Whereas Design research focuses on a qualitative basis response most of the time, targeting a smaller amount of the population with a better or more accurate information from the participants.

The author also explains a detailed exposure of the iterative methods almost equalizing it to a colloquial technique called waterfall using such linear thinking methods such as agile or scrum. Staging that this method is more effective when used in the early stages of product design & development rather than in the latest stages of a product.


Activity Centered Design versus Human Centered Design

In the search of finding the real effective product or service design for a specific target market group the author brings again the description of HCD and compares it to the ACD in which concludes that ACD belongs directly to the HCD complementing it. It also explains definitions of what ACD includes and why is it important. In a nutshell reducing the margin error for finding the right market needs in other words.

In its narrative Norman continues to explain an updated waterfall technique in which the main purpose of it is having gates, such gates purpose is the revision of decisions taken by the designing team with given feedback from management department, once the review of the progress is evaluated the “gate” open so the waterfall can continue its development process. This process tends to be bureaucratic this meaning long in terms of time and obligatory. Within the experience taken into practice for internal projects in Avanteam, individuals have ought to use certain fragments of the above mention techniques in order to solve problems and give viable solutions to such problems. In different field projects it can be notice the “static” of such not important problems in which the teams can sometimes loose time and drain its energy without noticing. The importance of identifying the real problem conveys an important responsibility for project managers, creative designers and team overall people in the business culture as we speak. Without a clear view of the problem, teams cannot work towards a significant solution (Norman, 1988).


Works Cited

DAHLBÄCK, N., JÖNSSON, A., & AHRENBERG, L. (1990). Wizard of Oz studies: why and how. In: Proceedings of the 1st international conference on Intelligent user interfaces. ACM: Warner Books.

International Coaching Federation. (2020, May 11). Reaserch: International Coaching Federation Web Site. Retrieved from International Coaching Federation Web Site: https://coachfederation.org/

Norman, D. (1988). The design of everyday things. New York City: Basic Books.



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