Lately I’ve noticed on my bookcase a lot of books with the word “Things” in them. I could say this is obvious: My lifetime interest in things is what naturally led me to a career in industrial design, and this explains why I have gravitated to books with the word in the title over the years, although I haven’t knowingly collected them that way. Here’s the list, in no particular order:
The Meaning of Things: Domestic Symbols and the Self (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochberg-Halton, 1981)
The Evolution of Useful Things (Petroski, 1992)
The Design of Everyday Things / The Psychology of Everyday Things (Norman, 1988)
Things That Make Us Smart (Norman, 1993)
The Design of Future Things (Norman, 2007)
The Language of Things (Sudjic, 2009)
Why Things Bite Back (Tenner, 1996)
History from Things: Essays on Material Culture (Lubar & Kingery, eds., 1993)
Taste: The Secret Meaning of Things (Bayley, 1991)
Design and Emotion: The Experience of Everyday Things (McDonagh, Hekkert, van Erp, Gyi, eds., 2004)
And here’s apparently one I need to acquire:
Smart Things: Ubiquitous Computing User Experience Design (Kuniavsky, 2010)
Some of these books remain among my favorites, and I know many of them were influential in making my career. I still recommend The Design of Everyday Things to my students as a must-read landmark book, based on Norman’s highly accessible human factors critique and the design implications of everyday product encounters, to say noting of it laying the groundwork for his subsequent important books. Csikszentmihalyi’s Meaning of Things is perhaps one of the most instrumental non-design texts used by designers as a reference for understanding product meaning in past and design and emotion still today. Stephen Bayley’s Taste is simply an enjoyable read, with his acidic critique and witty social history of things ranging from interior design to fashion and food. And of course Petroski’s Evolution of Useful Things brings to ubiquitous objects like the paper clip the interesting history they deserve.
Maybe what connects these references is the very human connection to the everyday, making them not only insightful for human centered design but relatable and interesting to any reader, reminding us ultimately why things are important to people.