Category Archives: Insightful

Book Notes: The Design of Everyday Things

This is an excellent book for those who aspire to do good work in the field of design, engineering, architecture, consumer products, or anything creative. After reading the book, you will have an enhanced appreciation for everyday things around you - things as trivial as a toaster, refrigerator, and pen. You will learn what separates a good product from a bad one. Dan Norman, the author is a renowned cognitive scientist and usability expert. He worked as a user experience architect at Apple, and popularized the term "user-centered-design".

Notes from the book:

Far too many items in the world are designed, constructed, and foisted upon us with no understanding for how they will be used. Three key things stand out of the book:

  1. Not the user's fault: If people are having trouble with your product, its not their fault - it's the fault of design
  2. Design Principles: Don't criticize something unless you can offer a solution.
    • Feedback: The user must be able to see the effect of his action. If he presses something, let him know through the design interface.
    • Constraints: The surest way to make something easy to use, with few errors, is to make it impossible to do otherwise. e.g. Battery of memory cards go only one way in properly designed products
    • Affordances: A good designer makes sure that appropriate actions are perceptible and inappropriate ones invisible.
  3. The power of observation: The path to be a good designer, starts by learning to watch, and learning to observe. Yogi Berra said "You can observe a lot by watching". Problem is you have to know how to watch.

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Book Notes: The Willpower Instinct - Kelly McGonigal

Dr. Kelly McGonigal is a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford. She created a course, "The Science of Willpower" which has become one of the most popular courses offered by Stanford. This course brings together insights about self-control based on research work across psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine. The book has ten chapters which reflect her ten week course. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of how Willpower works, then this is a must-read. It is quite practical and hard to put down once you start reading it.

Notes from the book:

To succeed at self-control, you need to analyze how you fail. Smokers who are most optimistic about their ability to resist temptation are most likely to relapse. Overoptimistic dieters are least likely to lose weight. Why? They fail to predict when, where, and why they will give in.

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What Are The Important Problems In Your Field?

I came across an excellent talk by Dr. Richard W. Hamming. He was an eminent Bell Labs scientist, who worked with the likes of Feynman, Fermi, and Oppenheimer. In this talk, he answers the question - Why do so few scientists make significant contributions and so many are forgotten in the long run? If you are in any field where innovation matters, I highly recommending reading this piece.

He brings up some excellent points. One of the gems - People who do great work know even in their sleep what are the important problems in their field, and they spend considerable time thinking about it. An average person on the other hand spends his time working on problems which he himself doesn't believe will not be important. He implores you to ask yourself - If what you are doing is not important, and if you don't think it is going to lead to something important, why are you working on it?

Quoting him directly - "If you do not work on an important problem, it's unlikely you'll do important work. It's perfectly obvious. Great scientists have thought through, in a careful way, a number of important problems in their field, and they keep an eye on wondering how to attack them. Let me warn you, `important problem' must be phrased carefully. The three outstanding problems in physics, in a certain sense, were never worked on while I was at Bell Labs. By important I mean guaranteed a Nobel Prize and any sum of money you want to mention. We didn't work on (1) time travel, (2) teleportation, and (3) antigravity. They are not important problems because we do not have an attack. It's not the consequence that makes a problem important, it is that you have a reasonable attack. That is what makes a problem important."

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