Join getAbstract to access the summary!

The Design of Everyday Things

Join getAbstract to access the summary!

The Design of Everyday Things

Basic Books,

15 min read
10 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

How to make products less confusing and more usable – it’s all in the design.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Applicable


Dome-headed engineering professors call it “human factors engineering,” “interaction design” or “usability engineering,” but the purpose of this strangely-named discipline is far simpler than these appellations suggest: to make everyday items do what users expect them to do. Donald Norman has been thinking about usability issues longer than almost anyone and has insights commensurate with his experience. Norman knows how both people and machines work (he has degrees in psychology and engineering). More importantly, he knows how to bridge the gulf between the human mind and the devices the mind wants to use, from toasters to telephones to teapots. In this classic, he provides a few simple precepts and many wonderful examples showing how to design the most important component of any technology – the user’s experience. While some of Norman’s examples are a little long in the tooth (he discusses VCRs, not DVDs), getAbstract finds that the principles he describes in this friendly book are still sprightly almost 20 years after their initial publication.


The Way Things Don’t Work

Some days, it seems, the amazing conveniences that are supposed to ease life’s burdens conspire to befuddle you instead. When your digital alarm clock buzzes, you reach over and tap what you think is the snooze button. In fact, it’s the on-off switch. Two hours later, you wake up (again), get into the shower and turn on the water. But you never figured out that fancy all-in-one tap and end up scalded. In the kitchen, you try to boil water for tea but spend an extra minute guessing which of the six knobs above the oven will ignite the right-front burner. In the car you almost go into a ditch fiddling with the barely visible, tiny buttons on the radio. Even the entrance to your office building seems to bear a grudge. You pull the door handle without effect, continuing to yank on it until you notice that little inscription on the doorframe: “PUSH.”

If you’ve experienced these sorts of frustrations, take comfort: Such adversities are common. Even MIT-trained engineers have trouble programming digital watches, figuring out which light switch controls which lamp and adjusting the temperature in a refrigerator. It’s not so much that people can’t ...

About the Author

Donald A. Norman is co-founder of a consulting firm and professor of computer science at Northwestern University. He served as vice president of advanced technology for a major computer manufacturer.

Comment on this summary

  • Avatar
  • Avatar
    S. Q. 1 year ago
    Great book! Will the newer updated version be online soon? I wanted to recommend this abstract to some technological colleagues who could use the updated version's abstract
  • Avatar
    S. S. 2 years ago
    I am new to getabstract, and was interested to read a summary of a book I had already read. This summary is very well-written, highlighting important concepts, and even capturing the flavor of Don Norman's engaging writing style. But unfortunately, this is a summary of the 2002 edition of this book, which was written when user experience design was in its infancy, and has many examples of outdated technology. While this edition is still a valuable and important work, Norman released a revised and expanded edition in 2013, which is widely available, and is basically required reading today for anyone interested in UX/UI, product design or design thinking. Not only are technological examples updated, but he has rewritten the book with an eye on the future and refined many of his concepts with that in mind. Please consider adding the 2013 edition to your library at getabstract.
    • Avatar
      2 years ago
      Thank you for advising us that a newer edition was published. Our Editorial team is working on an update. We will have the updated version online as soon as possible.