The design of everyday things. The psychology of everyday actions

Here I provide my thoughts that popped up during the reading of the second chapter “The psychology of everyday actions” from “The Design of everyday things” book.

Key take aways

  • people think in stories and they will create stories about how your product works. Your challenge is to influence the creation the right stories(conceptual models) that will help them using your product
  • what’s inside the brain - is more important than reality
  • combined “7-action” and “3 levels of processing” models with clue questions should be used as a checklist: where can I improve the product

Understanding thinking process

The author describes, in a simplified way, how our brain works when we do actions during the day. Which “systems” are responsible for what.
Then he takes 2 models: “7-action cycle” and “3 levels of processing” which explain the way of thought/decision making. Combines them and gives “clues” - which questions people will “ask themself” during the product usage.

7-action cycle model

People go through this cycle when they have some goals that they need to achieve. Sometimes part or all of these steps are subconscious. It doesn’t matter.
He splits the cycle into two parts(gulfs… probably it’s a common metaphor from the place where he lives ¯\(°_o)/¯).
One part is execution:
goal → plan → specify → perform → world
Second part is evaluation:
world → perceive → interpret → compare → goal
We start from the goal, go on an execution path to “world” and after we finished execution we evaluate feedback from the “world” and then can decide is it what we wanted, or we wanted something else.
For successful product experience we need to make these two “gulfs” as easy as possible for people.

3 levels of processing model

  • visceral - the most basic(lizard brain)
    • reflective, fast, subconscious, universal(context independent), works on primitive level
  • behavioral - learned and taught skills
    • even though it’s taught - during the execution most things here happen unconsciously
    • can be quite enjoyful if reality and expectation match
  • reflective - home of conscious cognition
    • cognitive, deep, slow
    • occurs after event has happened
    • emotions produced at this level are the most protracted
    • reflective memories(that are created in the brain after experience, they are different from what happened in reality) are more important than reality

combining models

  1. Reflective level
    Here goal, plan and compare steps live. They all might be unconscious.
    - what do I want to accomplish? goal
    - what are alternatives? plan-execution
    - is this okay? compare-evaluation
  2. Behavioral level
    specify and interpret
    - what can I do? specify-execution
    - what does it mean? interpret-evaluation
  3. Visceral level
    perform and perceive
    - how to do it? perform-execution
    - what happened? perceive-evaluation

Keep in mind the steps, levels of cognition and consider questions user “will ask”. By combining this information think how we can improve people’s experience.


  • People like stories. They are predictable. People like when expectations and reality match
  • People always try to create “stories”: chain of events/facts that are connected(in reality they might not be connected), cherry-picked(unpleasant events will be vanished/ignored), predictable(one leads to another and explains why things go that way).
  • It’s important to understand that even though the final story might be wrong - this is how people’s minds work. People will create stories about your product based on events they will get from using your product. The story they will create is a “conceptual model”. It’s in your interest to help them create the right “conceptual model”.
  • How to use this knowledge in creating the right “conceptual model” is a 1B question.
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