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I know there is no single correct answer to my question, so I would be grateful if mods could turn my question into community wiki.

I’m looking for a book about information architecture in everyday life outside Internet. The books I’ve read so far focus on architecturing information on the Internet. However, I can see lots of things that are informing us in a misleading way on the streets, public transport, etc. Just two cases I recall:

  • When I go by bus to the city centre, an information board shows the current date, and names celebrated this day. There is no information about the next stop that I look for but every three minutes all stops names are displayed in a small font sliding quickly. Fortunately, there are also trams in my city that provide information about next stop (and stops after it) in a clear way. So it is matter of usable design
  • When I was looking for a doctor in a backyard of one’s house, there was a set of arrows and labels on house informing both about doctor’s office in the backyard, and a grocery on the front. Misleadingly, the arrow showing the direction to the doctor was on the same background color as the label for the shop and both marks were close each other so I chose the wrong path.

I’m looking for something like the book “The Design of Everyday Things”, but focusing on informational aspect of the things. I have no particular purpose besides having a good read, and understanding how others perceive similar problems. I’m not necessarily looking for a book how to design things but rather commenting badly designed existing things.

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It's an interesting question, and would in my opinion make a good wiki. – JohnGB May 4 '13 at 13:29
I would ask someone who has downvoted my question to justify that. Can be helpful for me to improve the question. – dzieciou May 4 '13 at 14:16
Well, how about living with complexity? ;) – rk. May 4 '13 at 23:16
up vote 4 down vote accepted

I have never stumbled upon something like that, maybe because there is no such thing as “The Design of Everyday Things” because it is very complicated topic; designing a comfortable chair or convenient navigation is a harder task than designing a space ship. In latter you are bound by the laws of physics, physical limitation of materials etc. While designing a chair you are designing it for 6 billion potential customers — you are virtually bound by nothing.

Although I could give you some tips where to start:

  1. Notes on the Synthesis of Form by Christopher Alexander — this book describes the process of design in general. It attempts to measure design by how well it fits into the real world.
  2. Lebedev's mandership by Artemy Lebedev — available in both printed and on-line version. Mandership is a collection of author's thoughts on his surroundings. Key idea: common sense over everything else.
  3. Edward Tufte's books — Edward Tufte focuses on a way how to present and visualize data by introducing structure and order.
  4. Design For The Real World by Victor Papnek — this one is a must read book on design for anyone who works with design in any way.
  5. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper — this book covers the process of creating UI's, but main thoughts can be applied to any other major.
  6. The Ecological Approach To Visual Perception by James J. Gibson — this book attempts to answer the question why things look and work as they do and how do we see them; reading this will literally open your eyes.

Also I strongly advice to read few books on typography and printing since information todays is mostly visualized by the means of fonts.

Last thing — if you are interested in “The Design of Everyday Things”, my advice to you is to start gathering knowledge about world surrounding you; you wont be able to design anything, a vacuum cleaner for example, unless you know exactly how it works, how and by whom it is used, which parts it is composed of etc.

Designing things that are used every day is a very complex topic which requires enormous amount of knowledge. Hope this answer will help you to get going in the right direction.

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Re: I have never stumbled upon something like that, maybe because there is no such thing as “The Design of Everyday Things”. I meant a title of the book by Donald Norman, where he describes example of errors made in design of everyday things like doors, telephone etc. – dzieciou May 5 '13 at 7:18
Oh, nevertheless same goes for that book — I've never stumbled upon it :-) Thought you were referring to some sort of hypothetical cookbook with ready to use recipes. I quickly went through the book; at first glance it attempts to explain why and how things work. And it covers similar/same aspects as the books I've posted earlier. – Ruslan May 5 '13 at 8:15

The kind of examples you have fall into what's sometimes called "wayfinding". You'll find some references to this sort of stuff in books on architecture and urban planning. The wikipedia page on wayfinding has some pointers.

As you've spotted it has an obvious appeal to folk of a UX bent. You might find the following of interest:

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This book is a bit more holistic but you could surely find it interesting:

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