THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EVERYDAY THINGS by Donald A. Norman

THE PSYCHOLOGY OF EVERYDAY THINGS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This is a book for anyone who has been scalded (or frozen) in a hotel shower after turning the handle the wrong way. . .for people who ask their kids to Set their VCRs to tape a future program. . .who pull when they should push, who can't set a digital watch, and who invariably turn the back burner on when they want the front. It's not their fault! says Norman, emphatically, it's the design. Indeed, this UC San Diego cognitive psychologist has explored ""the psychology of everyday things"" (acronym POET) to come up with a battery of wonderfully bad examples as well as analyses of what goes on in our minds when we try to accomplish the routines that make up everyday experience. (For levity, there are also wonderful illustrations of self-defeating designs by a French artist, Jacques Carelman: e.g., an iron with wheels; a masochist teapot, with spout and handle on the same side.) Norman's approach involves an examination of thought and memory processes, the nonrational and subconscious modes that underlie behavior, the nature of errors, and the kinds of decision-making characteristic of common tasks, from following a recipe to playing chess. His solution to the ever-increasing complexity of technological society is to improve the design and display of objects we encounter: more feedback, for example, meaningful visual or auditory cues to let us know what's happening, like the satisfactory beeps and clicks when you make a telephone call. Let the layout of switches that operate room lights or gas burners map the position of the lights or burners. Use ""forcing functions"" to deter error. (You can't lock the keys in the car if you need them to lock the driver's door.) A lot of this is common sense, of course, but Norman reveals just how unsensible a world we live in. There are sobering reflections on how the ""human errors"" associated with nuclear disasters and airplaine crashes are, more accurately, design errors. The upbeat conclusion is that there are solutions to the tyranny of inanimate objects. There is a ""POET"" that can point the way.

Pub Date: May 23rd, 1988
Publisher: Basic Books