required reading?

I thought it might be interesting to compile a list of “must read” resources in the area of design research and human factors/usability (books, magazines, websites, etc). I’ll start off with a few to get the ball rolling:

Principles of Universal Design by The Center for Universal Design found at:

Actually, the whole Center for Universal Design website is helpful :

Good Ergonomics is Good Economics, Hal W. Hendrick

Bodyspace: Anthropometry, Ergonomics and the Design of Work, Stephen Pheasant

The magazine: Ergonomics in Design put out by

What would you include?

Forgive me for this post as I believe that it is probably not at all what you are asking for. But I hope you might find it useful nonetheless.

To me, the sources you offer up here are unassailable from a design-morality perspective. They are right. They are true. Yes, designers should care about people with accessability issues. And I appreciate your offering them up. I will even likely get around to examining them in detail - but only as a last resort because I actually find this genre of reading the exact opposite of “interesting.”

The thing is that the morality of “Universal Design,” or “human factors” or “ergonomics” or whatever it is going to be called in the future is the blunt instrument that its practitioners use to beat everyone else over the head with. It is like the hard-core believers intimidating the moderates with orthodoxy and dogma. This stuff is so dry, puritanically unsexy and nauseating to sit through that by the time one has endured all of it, all of the good intentions that went into it have been erased. I am sorry but I find the whole “Universal Design,” / “human factors” / “ergonomics” approach akin to sex manuals that depict the missionary position with schematic drawings. Sure. It works. Yes. We get it. But the presentation material continues to be rendered in such a way as to make the act completely devoid of discovery, insight and creativity -anything approaching the human. let alone the humane.

My challenge to anyone with even a faint interest in this stuff is to WRITE a compelling book about how to use what we know from “Universal Design,” / “human factors” / “ergonomics” and make it actually “interesting.” I cannot be bothered because like everyone else, I am in a giddy, star-struck rush to read " Isaac Mizrahi Takes on Product Design" the cover story of the latest ID magazine.


And you call yourself an Industrial Designer?

No. That would be limiting.

I think Cordy has captured a frustration I feel as well. I don’t like feeling lecturered at, even when I’m sympathetic to the point of view. There are some much more soft approaches to universal design that have been done at the Royal College of Art over the years, using participatory design. It can help one empathize with the user more than admonitions or anthropometric data.

Another good approach, very user centered, comes from Cambridge University. They have a book out on Inclusive Design I recommend highly. I’m not an expert in inclusive design, but I simply like their user centered approach. There is also a companion web tutorial to the book at

Well Cordy,

I completely hear you. But what then would you suggest for somebody trying to self educate themselves on these subjects and stay up to date in the field? You are very well read,surely you have come across pieces of value.

“The Human Touch” by Kim Vicente.

This is an overview of everything, from how design of products can prevent injury - to how design of teams can save lives in a cokpit or surgury theater - even to how the design of political systems can keep entire towns from having contaminated drinking water.

Yes, it’s not even close to sexy but damn important!

(Manufacturing is dry too, but we see the results)

Guest (maybe you could sign in, it would be nice and make you seem well, more ‘human’ to me if you did) My apologies for the late reply…

I am trying to take this business of “human factors” perhaps a little bit to the extreme. “Human factors” has traditionally limited itself to dealing primarily with the physical aspects of being human, and how physical constraints quite rightly affect design. I have no truck at all with this. It is important and will continue to be as long as we have bodies and senses.

I think that in the future though, design might have to begin to become more expert in the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects of “human factors.” (That word “factors” to me has always carried an unnecessarily nerdy, math teacher connotation for a discipline that is much more than that, but I cannot think of a better word at the moment). So anyway, here are a few books that might be useful to designers that explore what is might mean to be human. They are in no particular order of importance, nor would I classify them as “required” for anyone in design, since most designers I work with don’t really like to read so much ass leaf through books:

The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less by Barry Schwartz - For designers, the problem is not only about creating landfill, consumers are faced with far too many choices these days. This proliferation of choice creates its own set of problems.

The Elementary Particles by Michel Hollebecq reads like 3rd rate pornography most of the way, but its stunning genius as a philosophical novel of ideas (in the tradition of Huxley) is revealed at the end. It is warped, flawed, damaged but an undeniably accurate assessment of the past 40 years. A must read.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell is like his other book, The Tipping Point, are must reads if only because most clients of designers will be reading them. They are both a little repetitively written, "He is a burly man who has a non-descript office on Manhattan’s upper west side…"etc. Both offer a pastische of commercial phenomena, psychological experiments and novel analogies between different contexts.*

These books are not guidebooks for optimal button placement and the like, but rather, they challenge readers to ask what it means to be human - something designers would do well to do too.

What do people think? There are lots of good books out there…


On the research front, I’ve heard that “Basics of Grounded Theory Analysis: Emergence v. Forcing” is the best book for understanding ethnographic research. Be aware that it is written from an academic anthropological view point, not a designers.

My other must reads would be journal articles. Read Innovation magazine, Design Management Journal, etc. Sometimes even the Core-blog has some good links to research oriented articles.

I agree with Cordy that universal design, poorly implemented, makes crap product. Let’s face it, the world doesn’t need a skate board for arthritis patients. The concepts behind human factors, like every other concept in ID, need to be applied appropriately.

If you speak to the leaders of universal design however, they will tell you the same thing. It is only the reader’s digest versions which cut that out.

This is a very interesting reference. “Grounded theory” is the mother of applied ethnography. I hadn’t heard of this book [looks very hard to get], which is by one of the co-founders of grounded theory, a guy named Glasser. It seems to be is a rebuttal to the more recent writings of Glasser’s co-developer of grounded theory, Strauss. I’ll spare you the theoretical debate. But it does sound like it is worth reading if you are really interested in field research technique.

“Emotional Design” by Donald Norman