On The Design of Everyday Things

I recently finished reading The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman. As Tim Brown – CEO of IDEO best put it in talking about this book: “Part operating manual for designers and part manifesto on the power of designing for people. The Design of Everyday Things is even more relevant today than it was when first published.”

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found to be particularly insightful:

Two of the most important characteristics of good design are discoverability and understanding. Discoverability: Is it possible to even figure out what actions are possible and where and how to perform them? Understanding: What does it all mean? How is the product supposed to be used? What do all the different controls and settings mean?

Design is concerned with how things work, how they are controlled, and the nature of the interaction between people and technology. When done well, the results are brilliant, pleasurable products. When done badly, the products are unusable, leading to great frustration and irritation. Or they might be usable, but force us to behave the way the product wishes rather than as we wish.

My work with that committee :hanged my view of design. Today, I realize that design presents a fascinating interplay of technology and psychology that the designers must understand both.

Affordances are the possible interactions between people and the environment. Some affordances are perceivable, others are not. Perceived affordances often act as signifiers, but they can be ambiguous. Signifiers signal things, in particular what actions are possible and how they should be done. Signifiers must be perceivable, else they fail to function.

Emotion is highly underrated. In fact, the emotional system is a powerful information processing system that works in tandem with cognition. Cognition attempts to make sense of the world: emotion assigns value. It is the emotional system that determines whether a situation is safe or threatening, whether something that is happening is good or bad, desirable or not. Cognition provides understanding: emotion provides value judgments. A human without a working emotional system has difficulty making choices. A human without a cognitive system is dysfunctional.

Do not blame people when they fail to use your products properly. Take people’s difficulties as signifiers of where the product can be improved. Eliminate all error messages from electronic or computer systems. Instead, provide help and guidance. Make it possible to correct problems directly from help and guidance messages. Allow people to continue with their task: Don’t impede progress—help make it smooth and continuous. Never make people Start over. Assume that what people have done is partially correct, so if it is inappropriate, provide the guidance that allows them to correct the problem and be on their way. Think positively, for yourself and for the people you interact with.

In an earlier book, Things That Make Us Smart, I argued that it is this combination of technology and people that creates superpowerful beings. Technology does not make us smarter. People do not make technology smart. It is the combination of the two. the person plus the artifact, that is smart. Together, with our tools. we are a powerful combination. On the other hand, if we are suddenly without these external devices, then we don’t do very well. In many ways, we do become less smart.

Given the mismatch between human competencies and technological requirements, errors are inevitable. Therefore, the best designs take that fact as given and seek to minimize the opportunities for errors while also mitigating the consequences. Assume that every possible mishap will happen, so protect against them. Make actions reversible; make errors less costly. Here are key design principles: Put the knowledge required to operate the technology in the world. Don’t require that all the knowledge must be in the head. Allow for efficient operation when people have learned all the requirements. when they are experts who can perform without the knowledge in the world, but make it possible for non-experts to use the knowledge in the world. This will also help experts who need to perform a rare, infrequently performed operation or return to the technology after a prolonged absence. Use the power of natural and artificial constraints: physical, logical. semantic, and cultural. Exploit the power of forcing functions and natural mappings. Bridge the two gulfs, the Gulf of Execution and the Gulf of Evaluation. Make things visible, both for execution and evaluation. On the execution side, provide feedforward information: make the options readily available. On the evaluation side, provide feedback: make the results of each action apparent. Make it possible to determine the system’s status readily, easily, accurately, and in a form consistent with the person’s goals, plans, and expectations.

Designers often start by Questioning the problem given to them: they expand the scope of the problem, diverging to examine all the fundamental issues that underlie it. Then they converge upon a single problem statement. During the solution phase of their studies, they first expand the space of possible solutions, the divergence phase. Finally, they converge upon a proposed solution.

With massive change, a number of fundamental principles stay the same. Human beings have always been social beings. Social interaction and the ability to keep in touch with people across the world, across time, will stay with us. The design principles of this book will not change, for the principles of discoverability, of feedback, and of the power of affordances and signifiers, mapping, and conceptual models will always hold. Even fully autonomous, automatic machines will follow these principles for their interactions. Our technologies may change, but the fundamental principles of interaction are permanent.

A must read for anyone involved in designing products!




On Emotions Revealed

I recently finished read Emotions Revealed – Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life – by Paul Ekman. This book was recommended by best-selling author Daniel Pink as one of the top 6 books on the Art and Science of Sales. This book’s aim, as best summarized by the author: “My goal in writing Emotions Revealed was to help people improve four essential skills, and thus I have included suggestions and exercises in the book that I hope you will find both helpful and provocative. Those four skills are: First, becoming more i consciously aware of when you are becoming emotional, even before you speak or act…Second, choosing how you behave when you are emotional, so you achieve your goals without damaging other people…Third, becoming more sensitive to how others are feeling…Fourth, carefully using the information you acquire about how others are feeling.”

Below are key excerpts from this book:

Emotions determine the quality of our lives. They occur in every relationship we care about—in the workplace, in our friendships, in dealings with family members, and in our most intimate relationships. They can save our lives, but they can also cause real damage. They may lead us to act in ways that we think are realistic and appropriate, but our emotions can also lead us to act in ways we regret terribly afterward.

I reconciled our findings that expressions are universal with Birdwhistell’s observation of how they differ from one culture to another by coming up with the idea of display rules. These, I proposed, are socially learned, often culturally different, rules about the management of expression, about who can show which emotion to whom and when they can do so. It is why in most public sporting contests the loser doesn’t show the sadness and disappointment he or she reels. Display rules are embodied in the parent’s admonition—”Get that smirk off your face.” These rules may dictate that we diminish. exaggerate, hide completely, or mask the expression of emotion we are feeling.

Nearly everyone who does research on emotion today agrees with what I have described so far: first, that emotions are reactions to matters that seem to be very important to our welfare, and second, that emotions often begin so quickly that we are not aware of the processes in our mind that set them off Research on the brain is consistent with what I have so far suggested. We can make very complex evaluations very quickly, in milliseconds, without being aware of the evaluative process.

I am convinced that one of the most distinctive features of emotion is that the events that trigger emotions are influenced not just by our individual experience, but also by our ancestral past. Emotions, in the felicitous phrase of Richard Lazarus, reflect the “wisdom of the ages,” both in the emotion themes and the emotion responses. The autoappraisers are scanning for what has been important to survival not just in our own individual lives, but also in the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.

In another study focusing just on smiles, Richard Davidson, a psychologist who studies the brain and emotion, and I found that making a smile produced many of the changes in the brain that occur with enjoyment. It wasn’t just any kind of smile; only the smile that I had earlier found truly signified enjoyment (see chapter 9).

I have described nine paths for accessing or turning on our emotions. The most common one is through the operation of the autoappraisers, the automatic-appraising mechanisms. A second path begins in reflective appraisal that then clicks on the autoappraisers. Memory of a past emotional experience is a third path, and imagination is a fourth path. Talking about a past emotional event is a fifth path. Empathy is the sixth path. Others instructing us about what to be emotional about is the seventh path. Violation of social norms is an eighth path. Last is voluntarily assuming the appearance of emotion.

Controlling emotional behavior will not always work. When the emotion aroused is very strong, when we are in a mood that predisposes us toward the emotion, when the event resonates very closely with one of the evolved emotional themes or with an early learned emotion trigger, my suggestions will be more difficult to use. And, depending on the emotion, some people’s affective style—those who characteristically become emotional very quickly and very intensely—will make it harder to control some emotions. The fact that we will not always succeed does not mean that we cannot improve. The key is to understand ourselves better. By analyzing our emotional episodes afterward, we can begin to develop the habit of attentiveness. By learning to focus more on what it is we are feeling, by learning some of the internal clues that signal to us what emotions we are feeling, we are more likely to be able to monitor our feelings. Increasing our ability to spot the signs of how others are responding to us emotionally can alert us to be attentive to what it is we are doing and feeling—and help us respond to others’ emotions in an appropriate way. And, learning about the common triggers for each emotion, those we share with others and those that are especially important or unique for us, can help us prepare for emotional encounters.

These examples are meant to show that having information about how someone feels doesn’t itself tell vou what to do about it. It doesn’t confer the right or obligation to tell that person you know how he or she feels. There are alternatives, depending on who that person is and what your relationship to that person is, the circumstances at the moment, and what you yourself are comfortable with. But spotting sadness when it is subtle does tell you that something important is happening or has happened, that it involves loss, and that this person needs comforting. The expression itself doesn’t tell you whether you are the right person to give that comforting, or if this is the right time to offer it.

We often think we know why someone has become angry with us, but our version of the grievance may not match the other person’s version. While avoiding what makes someone angry leads to resentments, building a backlog of trouble, rarely should the matter be dealt with when one or both people are in the heat of their anger. If it is so urgent that the matter must be dealt with at once, and it cannot be postponed until a cooler moment, then it is important that both people try to be certain that they are past the refractory period. Otherwise, the discussion is bound only to fuel the anger. not focus on what the problem is and how it can be solved.

Neither empathy nor compassion is an emotion; they refer to our reactions to another person’s emotions. In cognitive empathy we recognize what another person is feeling. In emotional empathy we actually feel what that person is feeling, and in compassionate empathy we want to help the other person deal with his situation and his emotions. We must have cognitive empathy, in order to achieve either of the other forms of empathy, but we need not have emotional empathy in order to have compassionate empathy.

While all four of these contextual issues must be considered when evaluating a normal facial expression, or macro expression, of an emotion, they can be especially revelatory when studying a micro expression. They must also be considered when evaluating signs of emotion in the voice, in posture, and in other cognitively based clues to deceit. Most people do not notice micro expressions when they occur during a conversation, when a micro is competing for attention with words, the tone of the voice, and gestures. They are ; also missed because we are often distracted by thinking about what to say next rather than closely watching for a person’s micro expressions.

As I mention in chapter 9, the great French neurologist Duchenne du Boulogne was the first to suggest that the absence of emotion-based muscle movements that most people cannot perform voluntarily “unmasks the false friend.”‘ The absence of such involuntary movements suggests that the expression may be fabricated rather than genuine.

More generally, we have not found any behavioral change that always occurs in every person who is lying; that is why lie catchers must learn to be alert to every aspect of demeanor, tor it is never possible to know ahead of time how important information will appear. This news always disheartens television interviewers and print media writers, who are disappointed I can’t tell them the one surefire behavioral clue to deceit. It doesn’t exist. Anyone who says there is an absolutely reliable signal that someone is lying is either misguided or a charlatan.

A very perceptive and recommended read.

On The Knowing-Doing Gap

I recently finished reading the book The Knowing-Doing Gap – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge into Action by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton.

The main premise of this book as the authors best summarize it is: “Why knowledge of what needs to be done frequently fails to result in action or behavior consistent with that knowledge. We came to call this the knowing-doing problem – the challenge of turning knowledge about how to enhance organizational performance into actions consistent with that knowledge. This book presents what we learned about the factors that contribute to the knowledge doing gap and why and how some organizations are more successful than others in implementing their knowledge.”

The book then analyzes the reasons and causes of this gap through numerous examples and presents eight main recommendations: “Eight Guidelines for Action: 1) Why before How: Philosophy Is Important 2) Knowing Comes from Doing and Teaching Others How. 3) Action Counts More Than Elegant Plans and Concepts. 4) There Is No Doing without Mistakes. What Is the Company’s Response? 5) Fear Fosters Knowing-Doing Gaps, So Drive Out Fear. 6) Beware of False Analogies: Fight the Competition, Not Each Other. 7) Measure What Matters and What Can Help Turn Knowledge into Action. 8) What Leaders Do, How They Spend Their Time and How They Allocate Resources, Matters.”

A very applicable, educational and action oriented book. One that echoes the fundamentals of execution and its importance as the ultimate benchmark of success. A must read in the area of management!

Below are key excerpts from the book:

1- “…although knowledge creation, benchmarking, and knowledge management may be important, transforming knowledge into organization action is at least as important to organizational success.”

2- “Attempting to copy just what is done – the explicit practices and policies – without holding the underlying philosophies at once a more difficult task and an approach that is less likely to be successful.”

3- “Talk is also valued because, as noted earlier, the quantity and “quality” of talk can be assessed immediately, but the quality of leadership or management capability, the ability to get things done, can be assessed only with  greater time lag.”

4- “It is possible, albeit difficult, to build strong cultures founded on principles and philosophy that can also innovate and change. But doing so requires much thought and attention. Otherwise, firms are readily trapped by their history, even if, or particularly if, that history has many positive elements in it, as Saturn’s does.”

5- “Conversely, fear is an enemy of the abilitiy to question the past or break free from precedent.”

6- “It is clear to us that merely knowing what measurement practices should be used does not, by itself, cause leaders to implement measures that produce intelligent, mindful, learning behavior rather than the reverse.”

7- “In each of the instances in which effective measurement practices were used, knowing what to do, why it needed to be done, and having the persistence and courage to do it helped leaders turn knowledge about how to enhance performance into organizational action.”

8- “As Dean Tjosvold, a researcher and writer on the subject of competition and cooperation, noted, “Competition stimulates, excites, and is useful in some circumstance, but those situations do not occur frequently in organizations, and the widespread use of competition cannot be justified.””

9- “Harlow Cohen, the president of a Cleveland, Ohio, consulting firm, has called this gap between knowing and doing the performance paradox: “Managers know what to do to improve performance, but actually ignore or act in contradiction to either their strongest instincts or to the data available to them.””

10- “Knowing about the knowing-doing gap is different from doing something about it. Understanding causes is helpful because such understanding can guide action. But by itself, this knowing is insufficient – action must occur.”


Omar Halabieh

The Knowing-Doing Gap

The Knowing-Doing Gap