Inspirational quotes from Donald A. Norman

Right after starting any book written by Donald Arthur Norman, you realize he is one of the greats in the fields of design, usability engineering, and cognitive science.

Much of Norman‘s work is about science user-centered design. His life is all about developing the field of intelligent design, from doors to computers.

Don‘s essential idea is that all devices, things, computers, and interfaces should be functional, easy to use, and intuitive as much as possible.

While equally enjoying and examining it, I decided to share 10 of my bookmarks from his work that I took. While, of course, including some of my thoughts on them. I am certain that coming here again and again for his knowledge will represent an excellent beginning for any future design project.

Quote #1: “Fail often, fail fast.”

Everybody should turn this inspirational quote into a life rule, especially designers. Failing constantly directs us to begin by going over every possible choice in front of us. Which makes us make better decisions. 

What is the first remarkable thing, that crosses your active mind when you hear the word “failure”? A long list of negative adjectives? That is because the modern society we live in views failures with such a negative perspective that suggesting it as a good thing seems strange. We curse ourselves for our failures and whine over our mistakes, but how many times do we think of failures as opportunities to learn?

Therefore, nobody is born perfect. As humans, we are destined to commit mistakes – There is no big deal in it. But what matters is, kicking yourself over your mistakes and learning from them. We cannot learn to walk without falling, can we? But every time you fall, pick yourself up, dust off your butt, and give it another try – that is what successful people do!

As Zig Ziglar put it, “A failure remains an event, not a person.” There is nothing wrong with you. If you have failed, it is just an indication that your approach was wrong, and you can do better in the future. If you are afraid of failing, you will not ever get a positive inspiration and drive your need to succeed in life.

Quote #2: “The hardest part of the design … is keeping features out.”

The simpler the concept, the better result, the solution will be. If you want a bigger user audience, you will have to cut lots of ideas out. Eliminating unnecessary complexity assures you a better user experience. No one enjoys the feeling of confusion while handling an overcomplicated task.

In this way, it will be excellent if you understand when to say no to the next feature. Only substantiated arguments must be the sole reason if you decide to include a new feature. To propose something valuable you must consider the needs of your target group and the outstanding product. That will help you to draw the line.

Quote #3: “A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all: solve the correct problem.”

To specify the correct problem remains the first logical step of the innovative solution.

Possessing a vision for the problem helps you to take the right approach. Very often a sole difficulty can be pulled apart in many other micro problems which reduce the complexity of the successful picture. But you can achieve that only if you have clear specifications in your mind.

In the context of design, thinking is good to come up with multiple but quality ideas that are essentially going to improve people’s lives. These ideas must respond to the demands of the users about the product. They must be flexible and effective. But most importantly they must be not only great by themselves but great for the people.

Quote #4: “Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible.”

To notice an excellent design is more complicated than looks. But why is that?

We can completely agree that to notice a bad design is more organic for us. All the incorrect choices selected by the designer can be automatically registered by our eyes – like chaotic information, boring colors, inappropriate print, etc. It is a universal principle to pay attention when something does not put together the whole picture.

On another hand, good design transfers simultaneously the function, the values, and the beauty of a product. Good design communicates in an accurate manner. There are not unnecessary components, and the content comes to the fore. That is in fact the reason why good design is invisible. What becomes important is only the content.

Quote #5: “Beauty and brains, pleasure and usability – they should go hand in hand.”

The exceptional design recognizes the need for aesthetics and usability. We can essentially look at the design as a form of expression. To develop a product that lasts, you must combine and incarnate in your work a different level of creativity and intelligence. But both components must be present. 

Beauty and pleasure serve on an emotional level while smartness – on a practical one. This combination allows us to relax and feel comfortable with the whole exchange with the product. Maybe we can say that in some way we can experience the design. And that experience is pleasant. There is no place for thinking and noticing.

Quote #6: “When a device as simple as a door has to come with an instruction manual — even a one-word manual—then it is a failure, poorly designed.”

The idea of good design is not only to create an attractive product as we already discussed. It has as a purpose to achieve a standard level of usability. Therefore, if a product with a simple mechanism overwhelms the customer, the product is far from functional perfection.

Your audience needs simplicity and clarity, not „the next task for the day “. Put differently, you must facilitate your client because nowadays nobody has the time and patience for unnecessary tasks. 

The clearer the steps, the more pleasant experience you deliver.

Quote #7: “Having the best product means nothing if the people won’t buy it.”

Clients and audiences will always be the key components of the success of a design.

That is a tricky situation because you consistently put your client in the first place (As it should be if you want to be successful.) but that does not always include your opinion. No matter how great you consider the design, if it does not touch the clients, you have no chances of completion.

Think about it from a business perspective. Your incomes are related to your customers. You are obligated to work for their interest, not for yours.  

Quote #8: “Attractive things work better. When you wash and wax a car, it drives better, doesn’t it? Or at least feels like it does.”

Attractive things certainly should be preferred over ugly ones, but why would they work better?

As we have all experienced before, attractive things are always easier to use! Initially, it looks like it is hard to discover an obvious connection between beauty and function. 

However, everybody knows emotions change the way the mortal mind resolves problems – the emotional system changes how the cognitive system operates. Therefore, if aesthetics would affect our emotional state, that would explain the mystery.

These – and related – findings suggest the role of aesthetics in product design: attractive things make people feel good and do not engage them, which in turn makes them think more creatively. How does that make something easier to use? Simple, by making it easier for people to find solutions to the problems they encounter. 

With most products, if the first thing you undertake fails to produce the desired result, the most natural response is to try again, only with more effort. In today’s world of computer-controlled products, doing the same operation over again is very unlikely to yield better results. The accurate response is to look around and see what alternatives exist. 

The attractiveness of a solution controls how enjoyable completing a task with it will be. Or at least people seem to enjoy them more.

Quote #9: “Knowing how people will use something is essential”

We should know how and why if we want to be correct!

The role of the design is much deeper than how eye-catching is some product. Your work has as a goal to satisfy your customers and their expectations not only in an aesthetical manner but also in a practical one. So, knowing how they are going to use something is a very clever strategy, because then you know how to optimize your product/design. 

You must try to learn something more about your audience but only then you can serve them. That is the way you build a relationship with your customers. To begin with, you recognize them, then you can communicate with them and then they trust you.

In consequence of that, you receive another benefit: it becomes easier to separate the practical and aesthetical elements of your work and use them. It`s useful to know to what degree you can experiment and until what to stick to the standard. Then your clients are put in the golden mean – they receive enough originality, and they are not out of their comfort zone.

Quote #10: “To me, error analysis is the sweet spot for improvement.”

The phase when we start correcting the mistakes.

Carefully analyzing your work is the best way to mark where are you in the hierarchy of skills. 

This process allows you to clarify for yourself the notable omissions that you naturally make. And when the obstacle is specified, it is more painless to deal with it. In a more effective way. 

Otherwise, how can you fix something if you do not know it exists?


I hope you succeeded to receive your inspirational dose for today. Donald Norman can be a massive source of motivation and knowledge. 

Therefore, take your time and go create attractive work but be careful to not overcomplicate everything.