Book review: The Design of Everyday Things

Donald A. Norman wrote a book in the 1980’s about good (and bad) product design and updated it a couple of times. The Design of Everyday Things is a good introduction into sensible product design. It does not focus on software, though many concepts work with software just as well. I will come back to this book from time to time and highlight some details.

Attention to detail

I realize once more that Mac OS is the most beautifully designed operating system, with great attention to detail. Windows 8 might be more straightforward, but look at this example of the Mac App Store over at Little Big Details: Depending on the download progress of an app, the transparency of the icon changes! This is not necessary at all for proper functioning, but shows how much care they put in the product.

PM Reporting Lines

There is an interesting study on MindTheProduct about product managers in Europe, the UK and the US. One of the topics highlighted are the reporting lines. It appears that most of product managers (probably departments, but the study doesn’t say explicitly so) report directly to the CEO. Other answers included Technology and Marketing, though I believe that Product Management should be independent of both. Whom do you report to?

Impact Maps

An interesting way of deriving features from actual business goals is Impact Mapping. The centre of the process is the business goal, which several groups of people contribute to. Each of the groups can contribute in certain ways, and therefore needs specific features. This four-step approach cannot replace any planning, wireframing, etc., but if the goal is fixed, it helps you see which features are needed by which people.

There has been some discussion on whether the Who or the How should be the second step, and the author decided for the Who. Of course, anyone using this technique is free to adapt the concept.

A very nice sales tool

On a recent trade fair, I came across a company that had a very nice sales pitch: Anyone could model an IT environment on an iPad, then the app calculated the operating costs. The salesman claimed that this offer was binding to the provider. Within minutes, customers had a price indication and could go right to the next step.

I like this direct sales approach, involving the customer’s situation (and problems) right from the beginning. Of course, such an approach is the easier the simpler the solutions is, and might not be appropriate for all solutions. But if your software or offer is that simple, this is an impressive sales pitch.

Predicting users’ intentions

Predict human behaviour! Users do not alway act rational. They type and speak unprecise and still complain when the software does exactly what they asked for.

Good software predicts the intentions of the user and asks for confirmation, should there be room for misunderstanding. Apple’s Siri is a good example, as shown by Little Big Details. Around midnight, it is unclear what “Tomorrow” means, so Siri asks the user for confirmation.

Balsamiq Mockup tool


The first post of this blog introduces a tool for a very important task of product management: user interface design. Since the user interacts with the software only through the user interface, careful design is necessary, which often involves several iterations.

An effective yet simple tool for creating wireframes is Balsamiq. It’s quick, easy, and provides two different styles for wireframes. Have a look yourself.