The Design of Everyday Things: a Review

The Design of Everyday Things is a must-read book for every UX designer. In this review, we’re going to take a look at the book, what it stands for, and whether or not the book is the classic every designer says it is.

The Design of Everyday Things Review

Most designers know who Don Norman is. Of course, in the case of this review, we will focus on him as the author of The Design of Everyday Things. Yet, he did so much more. Did you know he is credited for inventing the term user experience and the founder of the Nielsen Norman Group?

If you would make a list of must-read UX books, this book is on every list. With such a reputation, we have read the book with great anticipation. Let’s dive in!

Table of Contents

About the Design of Everyday Things

One important thing to keep in mind is that this book has two versions. The original book was released back in 1988 under the title ‘The Psychology of Everyday Things’. Later on, the book got the title we know today.

As a UX designer, the second version is the one to buy and read. It is called ‘The Design of Everyday Things: revised & Expanded’. The book was released in 2013. The image below shows you what this book looks like.

The Design of Everyday Things

The Design of Everyday Things is a book written by Don Norman. Within the world of design, Don Norman is known for introducing a number of phrases, theories, and subjects. The most famous of those is of course how he introduced UX to the world.

Don Norman talks about how and why he wrote the book in the video we’ve embedded in this post below. He talks about how he took a sabbatical and found out how he couldn’t use doors, water taps, and other everyday things.

In theory, Don Norman says, everything we use has a set of rules that apply to the use of that given object. The Design of Everyday Things explores these rules and gives you a great insight into the world of user experience and how you can apply these guidelines to your UX design work.

The Design of Everyday Things Summary

Let’s take a look at the summary of the Design of Everyday Things. With around 300 pages the book isn’t that much of a long read. Yet, having a clear summary can help you decide whether or not you want to buy the book.

As Don Norman said in the video above you have to keep a number of guidelines in mind when designing something. He calls these the seven basic principles of design.

  1. Discoverability
  2. Feedback
  3. Affordances
  4. Constraints
  5. Signifiers
  6. Mappings
  7. Conceptual Models

You will need to cover these principles if you want to design something that is easy-to-use, delightful, and beneficial to the user. The Design of Everyday Things provides examples and theories on each of these principles to help you out. Looking at a random object you use every day will never be the same!

Especially affordances are one to keep in mind. Don Norman is credited for applying the term (as previously introduced by James Gibson) to design. Affordances are ways of showing the user how an object can be used. The Design of Everyday Things discusses doors and door handles at length.

The Norman Door is a famous term known by many UX designers. The book discusses how doors are very hard to use.

As a UX designer, you design with the user in mind. You design solutions, platforms, and applications that benefit the user’s wants and needs. We call this user-centered design. Don Norman came up with this way of designing before he wrote The Design of Everyday Things but the term only gained traction after the release of this book.


The theory and examples as told in The Design of Everyday Things have great takeaways for every designer. Yes, they apply to real-world objects. However, that doesn’t mean they do not apply to digital objects as well.

Keep the seven basic principles of design in mind the next time you design something. Accessibility, usability, and usefulness are more important than making your designs look shiny. The book talks a lot about how you can apply these principles to your day-to-day work.

Here are a few great examples of the lessons and takeaways you might get from The Design of Everyday Things.

  • As a designer, we are responsible for designing something that is useful to the user. We’re here to protect the user’s best interests. Reading the book has made that clearer than ever for us.
  • Didn’t you understand an object or product right away? Don’t be sad! The product was designed in a bad way. The book explains why and how to do it better.
  • Follow cultural conventions. Users use more than just your designs. Follow what’s known as common knowledge. Do not reinvent the wheel.

The Design of Everyday Things is a must-read for every UX designer. The theory, basic knowledge, and great examples have great value. Do you want to become a UX designer or improve your craft? Start with this book!

Get the book

Now that we’ve discussed the book it is time for you to decide whether or not you want to read it. In any case, we can highly recommend it.

If you want to read The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman, you can do so by clicking the link below. Amazon has the book as a paperback, audiobook, and Kindle.

You can get The Design of Everyday Things on Amazon.

Further reading

That’s our review on The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. It’s a classic that’s worth every dollar. Make sure you read it!

Books are great. Reading one (or all!) of the must-read books on UX we recommend can really kickstart your career as a UX designer. We believe reading a good book can be a relaxing and cheaper alternative to joining a bootcamp.

Profile picture of author Nick Groeneveld, a senior UX designer and mentor for The Designer's Toolbox

About the author

Hi! I'm , a senior designer from the Netherlands with experience in UX, visual design, and research. I have completed a wide range of projects in finance, tech, and the public sector.

Take a look at my LinkedIn and Medium for more.