The Design of Everyday Things by the cognitive scientist and engineer Donald Norman is an excellent examination of how good design makes it easier to use everything from a computer mouse to a fire escape.
Anyone with even a passing interest in the subject of leadership will quickly notice the remarkable similarities and analogies between good design and good leadership. Here are some extracts. (Try substituting the word ‘design’ for ‘leadership'.)
“To get something done, you have to start with some notion of what is wanted—the goal that is to be achieved. Then, you have to do something to the world, that is, take action to move yourself or manipulate someone or something. Finally, you check to see that your goal was made. So there are four different things to consider: the goal, what is done to the world, the world itself, and the check of the world. The action itself has two major aspects: doing something and checking. Call these execution and evaluation.”
“Many in the design community understand that design must convey the essence of a device’s operation; the way it works; the possible actions that can be taken; and, through feedback, just what it is doing at any particular moment. Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.”
“Assume that any error that can be made will be made. Plan for it. Think of each action by the user as an attempt to step in the right direction; an error is simply an action that is incompletely or improperly specified. Think of the action as part of a natural, constructive dialog between user and system. Try to support, not fight, the user’s responses. Allow the user to recover from errors, to know what was done and what happened, and to reverse any unwanted outcome. Make it easy to reverse operations; make it hard to do irreversible actions. Design explorable systems. Exploit forcing functions.”
• Make it easy to determine what actions are possible at any moment (make use of constraints).
• Make things visible, including the conceptual model of the system, the alternative actions, and the results of actions.
• Make it easy to evaluate the current state of the system.
• Follow natural mappings between intentions and the required actions; between actions and the resulting effect; and between the information that is visible and the interpretation of the system state. In other words make sure that (1) the user should be able to figure out what to do, and (2) the user can tell what is going on.”
“Design should make use of the natural properties of people and of the world: it should exploit natural relationships and natural constraints. As much as possible, it should operate without instructions or labels. Any necessary instruction or training should be needed only once; with each explanation the person should be able to say, “Of course,” or “Yes, I see.” A simple explanation will suffice if there is reason to the design, if everything has its place and its function, and if the outcomes of actions are visible. If the explanation leads the person to think or say, “How am I going to remember that?” the design has failed.”
“1. Use both knowledge in the world and knowledge in the head.
2. Simplify the structure of tasks.
3. Make things visible: bridge the gulfs of Execution and Evaluation.
4. Get the mappings right.
5. Exploit the power of constraints, both natural and artificial.
6. Design for error.
7. When all else fails, standardize.”