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Living with Complexity Hardcover – October 29, 2010

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Living with Complexity + The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition + Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things
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Editorial Reviews


As the world grows beyond the understanding of any one Renaissance man or woman, Donald Norman's missive is well timed. Every product designer is an interaction designer whether they want to be or not.

(Robert Blinn Core77)

The world, it seems, is becoming ever more complex. While some view this as a problem, Don Norman sees it as an opportunity. In Living with Complexity, he brilliantly shows how, in a partnership between users and designers, we can tame the ravages of complex technology and complex situations to create experiences that work.

(Tim Brown, CEO and president, IDEO)

... you will like Norman's calm voice, keen observations and sage counsel about what could be done. Read his book.

(Geoffrey K. Pullum Times Higher Education)

About the Author

Business Week has named Don Norman as one of the world's most influential designers. He has been both a professor and an executive: he was Vice President of Advanced Technology at Apple; his company, the Nielsen Norman Group, helps companies produce human-centered products and services; he has been on the faculty at Harvard, the University of California, San Diego, Northwestern University, and KAIST, in South Korea. He is the author of many books, including The Design of Everyday Things, The Invisible Computer (MIT Press, 1998), Emotional Design, and The Design of Future Things.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press (October 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262014866
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262014861
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #175,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Don Norman is a voyeur, always watching, always on the lookout for some common-day occurrence that everyone else takes for granted but that when examined, yields insight into the human condition. (If you are rushing to catch a train, how do you know if you got to the station on time? Empty platform? You probably are too late. People milling about, looking at their watches,peering down the tracks? Probably OK. Who needs technology when people are so informative, even if as an accidental byproduct of their activities.

Business Week has named him one of "the world's most influential designers," the influence from his books, essasys, courses and students, lectures, and consulting.

He takes special delight in the interaction of people and technology. "Develop the skill of observation," he councils: especially pay attention to the obvious. "Question the obvious and you will dis cover many hidden insights. What seems to be obvious often is not."

He is a fellow of many organizations and former lots of things, including VP at Apple Computer and even President of a startup. He has honorary degrees from the University of Padua (Italy) and the Technical University Delft (the Netherlands). He was awarded the Benjamin Franklin medal in Computer and Cognitive Science and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering. He is known for his books "The Design of Everyday Things," "Emotional Design," and "The Design of Future Things," but he is most proud of his students, now all over the world, who put into practice his human-centered design philosophy. his latest book is "Living with Complexity," which argues that complexity is necessary: Our tools must match our tasks. When people cry out for simplicity, they are wrong -- people want understanding. That is not the same as simplicity -- simple thing are often the most confusing.

He is currently revising "Design of Everyday Things" to keep the message the same but update the examples. Expected publication date is August 2013.

He lives at, where you can find chapters from his books and loads of essays.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

127 of 137 people found the following review helpful By Silea VINE VOICE on December 18, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I used to be a fan of Don Norman's books. Heck, The Design of Everyday Things is what got me started in my career, and reading it was a truly formative experience. Emotional Design is another great Norman book that helps the reader understand the world around them.

But the more Mr. Norman writes, the worse his books get. The Design of Future Things was a rambling beat-the-dead-horse screed about how cars should drive themselves, and appliance designers should find ways for appliances to communicate with us other than going 'beeeeeep'. Both of those are true, but he covered them just as well (perhaps better) in a two-page article he wrote for a journal.

This volume, Living With Complexity, continues that downward spiral.

As always, he has a good premise: complexity is not inherently bad. Simplicity is not inherently good. And more important, it's not a zero-sum trade-off between the two.

Unfortunately, it's buried under semi-coherent prose that rambles, circles, repeats, and ultimately goes nowhere. It takes entire chapters to convey simple ideas. He even gets tangled up in his own arguments, getting the punch line wrong at least once (i'm not sure if he meant to say 'reduces simplicity' or 'increases complexity', but the end result was 'increases simplicity', which was exactly the opposite of what he'd just shown).

He even gets some of the research wrong. It's well known that people will shop based on features.
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40 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Dave English VINE VOICE on October 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Don Norman studies, analyzes, teaches, and writes about good design. He is a professor with an outstanding academic record and actual experience in industry, and something rarer still, the ability to communicate his insights. This is a good book, an important book, about the difference between 'complexity' and 'complicated'. Some tasks are complex -- like flying a B787 or written language -- but the resulting interaction with humans doesn't have to be overly complicated. On the other hand, some designs -- like coffee makers or commercial toilet paper dispensers -- take a task that ain't that complex and make it crazy complicated. Good design isn't just ergonomic in the sense of being the right size for human hands, good design is ergonomic is the sense of being right for the way human brains work. Norman offers here the excellent example of the old VCR compared to a TiVo box. The computer in the TiVo box is very complex, but the task of recording Letterman is so much less complicated.

Unfortunately this isn't Norman's best book. If you are interested in the general ideas, the classic introduction is The Design of Everyday Things. This book seems a little too quickly written, and would have benefited with more time and attention. I'd like to have seen more detailed in-depth examples, or maybe a more developed thematic organization of the issues. If however, you know you like this subject, then pretty much anything Norman writes is worth your time to read. I hope you find this review useful.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By frankp93 VINE VOICE on November 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Donald Norman makes the point in 'Living with Complexity' that complex technology is an inevitable part of our lives and we wouldn't have it any other way.

That may sound counterintuitive to anyone who's ever cursed their remote control or slammed a computer mouse, but it's true. All things being equal, people nearly always choose a feature-rich item over a less-featured alternative. We market products by stressing new features that provide ever more functionality along with, inevitably, more complexity. I doubt a software vendor has ever touted their latest release as, 'containing even fewer features than our prior version'.

We all want functionality in our cars, software, and household appliances. We want the convenience of automated services and the ability to carry our electronic lives around in the palms of our hands. But we also want all of this technology to be understandable and this is the challenge of 'human-centered' design, as Norman calls it.

The problem is, too often, technology frustrates and confounds, not because of its inherent complexity, but because of poor design that neglects or disregards human behavior. People routinely and successfully drive cars, purchase tickets from kiosks, fly aircraft, and use complex graphics and audio software, demonstrating it's possible to design advanced technology in such a way that promotes effective learning and use.

In contrast, even simple technology such as salt and pepper shakers can be confusing if their contents are not easily distinguished. It's not a question of equating the importance of applying salt to flying a plane; it's the cumulative effect of living in a world where technologies of all stripes often appear indifferent or adversarial rather than assistive and even `social'.
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