I'm only 3 chapters in to a book called "The Design of Everyday Things" by Donald A. Norman and have already learned some interesting things about design. I'd recommend the book for anybody who wants to be a better designer, or even for anybody who just wants to understand humans and how we interact with the devices we design. I'll explain the two best takeaways from the book so far.
Norman describes 4 principles of design: visibility, a good conceptual model, good mappings, and feedback. Visibility means that by simply looking, the user can tell the state of the device and the alternatives for action. The second principle, a good conceptual model, is provided by the designer with consistency in the presentation of operations and results in a coherent, consistent system image. Good mappings means that it is possible to determine the relationships between actions and results, between the controls and their affects, and between the system state and what is visible. Lastly, feedback means that the user receives full and continuous feedback about the results of actions. Just having those principles in mind when you're designing your products and services will by itself improve your results.
Another helpful resource from Norman's book are a set of 7 design questions you can ask yourself. They are as follows. How easily one can: Determine the function of the device? Tell what actions are possible? Determine mapping from intention to physical movement? Perform the action? Tell if system is in desired state? Determine mapping from system state to interpretation? Tell what state the system is in? Ask yourself these questions when wondering if you have designed a good product and you will find ways to improve it.
Lastly, I'd like to share this passage from p.74 in the book, when Donald Norman predicted the smart phone. It's in a section of the book where he is talking about external memory and reminder systems, and how they play a role in usability. The passage is as follows:
"Would you like a pocket-size device that reminded you of each appointment and daily event? I would. I am waiting for the day when portable computers become small enough that I can keep one with me at all times. I will definitely put all my reminding burdens upon it. It has to be small. It has to be convenient to use. And it has to be relatively powerful... It has to have a full, standard typewriter keyboard and a reasonably large display. It needs good graphics, because that makes a tremendous difference in usability... What I ask for is not unreasonable. The technology I need is available today. It's just that the full package has never been put together... But it will exist in imperfect form in five years, possibly in perfect form in ten."
This book was published in 1988.