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The Design of Everyday Things - Donald A. Norman You can learn a lot about relationships from studying the principles of design.

Design is a noun and a verb. Here we’re thinking in terms of both, as in how to design a design. A design is an act of communication. Even the purely aesthetic design, in which appearance is all, is intended to evoke a response.

A functional design must convey the essence of the device’s operation to the user, or put another way: how form translates into function.

Design alone should convey how a thing is supposed to work, its intended use and the expected outcomes, and when used it should provide feedback to let the user know that things are working as intended.

As vice president of advanced technology at Apple, Donald Norman helped determine how best to design computers for users. He enjoyed it so much he launched a consulting firm to apply the principles of good design to a variety of products.

In so doing, Norman developed theories about the psychology and psychopathology of everyday things and actions based on how information is intuited and applied. The book is a fascinating look at how design enables information, and how the same basic design principles can be applied to everything from door knobs to airplane wings. The basic approach is as follows.

First, proceed on the assumption that it’s never the user’s fault. If a design doesn’t work for an intended user, you should assume there’s a problem with the design, and when evaluating a design you start by looking at the concepts.

It is the nature of the human mind to seek meaning, and meaning begins with concepts. As a research scientist studying the principles of cognition, Norman determined that attempting something arbitrary is among the most (if not the most) frustrating things a human mind can do.

So you need clear concepts about what a thing is supposed to be and do, and then to experiment to determine how a design can best accommodate them.

The design will involve affordances and constraints. An affordance is a clear or self-evident means of accomplishing something. Constraints are the limitations necessary to prevent the choices from being too many and overwhelming, or just too damn confusing.

Norman elaborates on all of the above with wit and style, making the read as enjoyable as it is informative, and enjoyable designs are always best.

Highly recommended for anyone interested in how things and relationships work.