The Design of Future ThingsI’ve read a few books by Don Norman before and they have all been a great source of inspiration and full of “Aha” moments. This book doesn’t quite reach that same level, but I still find it an interesting read.

The book is basically about how to design intelligent things. Some call it ambient computing others discrete computing, but it’s all about the pitfalls and principles when we try to add intelligence to our daily objects.

Much of the focus in the book is on how to develop intelligent cars. Maybe it’s because it’s a field where the work of developing intelligent machines has reached farthest. Don also discusses the design of intelligent dishwashers, kitchens, personal assistants and so on, but not in the same depth as the discussion about cars.

Rules of Interaction

Don establishes six rules of interaction.

  1. Provide rich, complex, and natural signals
  2. Be predictable
  3. Provide a good conceptual model
  4. Make the output understandable
  5. Provide continual awareness without annoyance
  6. Exploit natural mappings

These rules are discussed in detail in the book and can be used as rules of thumb when designing intelligent objects.

Machine-Human Interaction

In the end of the book there’s a really interesting chapter where Don turns the table around and have a dialog with the intelligent machines and how they think about interacting with people. They call this discipline Machine-Human Interaction (MHI). The machines find people really hard to understand and think they have all kinds of odd behaviours. They have have five rules for communication between machines and people.

  1. Keep things simple
    Since people have difficulty with anything complicated and don’t like to listen. Keep things simple
  2. Give people a conceptual model
    A conceptual model is fiction, but a useful one. Since people can’t understand complicated things they need conceptual models to make them think they undestand.
  3. Give reasons
    People like to think they understand things, therefor give them pictures and diagrams that explains what’s happening. Just be sure that it fits the conceptual model, otherwise they get confused.
  4. Make people think they are in control
    When people think they understand what’s happening they feel like they are in control. They like that.
  5. Continually reassure
    Give continual feedback so that users feel reassured that everything is working. People are emotional and needs this kind of stuff. Be careful though, not to give to much feedback, then they can get annoyed.
  6. Never label human behaviour as “error”
    People don’t like to do errors. Treat it as a misunderstanding.

The last rule was not added by the machines but by Don himself. :-).

I found this chapter both hilarious and brilliant. It’s really educational since it makes you see these topic from a whole other perspective. Very refreshing! Also notice how these rules map with the six rules of interactions, they are merely seen from the perspective of the machine.

Final verdict

Although this book isn’t as brilliant and mind opening as The Design of Everyday Things or Emotional Design, I still think that it’s well worth a read. It contains some grains of gold even if Don seems to repeat himself a little to much in this book. In the end of the book there’s also an excellent list of books if you want to dive even deeper into some of the subjects discussed in the book.

Apart from that the book is a joy to read. I really enjoy Don’s writing style. He truly is a master of both words and science.

Video seminars

If your interested in this book and the things discussed in it there’s a recording from Don Normans talk at last years From Business To Buttons Conference. It’s complete with video and slides and in it he touches upon a lot of the concepts discussed in the book. You’ll find it on businesstobuttons.tv.

I’ve also watched a recording on iTunesU from Stanford Human-Computer Interaction Seminars from winter 2007 with lots of materials from this book. I wrote about that in the article Great video seminars from Stanford on iTunes U. In that article you will find more information on this seminar and links to it.

Title: The Design of Future Things
Author: Donald A. Norman
Publisher: Basic Books (October 29, 2007)
Pages: 240 pages
ISBN: 0-465002-27-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-465-002-27-6