Like listening to a greatest hits album to get a feel for a band’s most influential work, reading 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan M. Weinschenk, PhD, is an excellent way to delve into design through the lens of how people think and interact.

The book covers some of the most important lessons for designers from Daniel Pink, Steve Krug, John Medina, Sheena Iyengar, Mihaly Csiksentmihalyi, Paul Fitts, and many other writers and researchers. (J.M. Keller, creator of the ARCS model of instructional design, even gets a nod.) At the very least, the book provides good entry points to these experts’ work for those who want to explore further.

100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People is broken down into 10 chapters based on how people see, read, remember, think, focus their attention, are motivated, interact, feel, make mistakes, and decide – all things that designers and educators could benefit tremendously from knowing more about! And I especially liked how Weinshenk debunked many “common knowledge” myths. Here are a few lessons from the book.

Vision trumps all of the senses

The first two chapters, “How People See” and “How People Read,” are full of practical, tactical lessons for design of both graphics and text that any designer will be able to use right away. For example, you may know that you shouldn’t use red and green as the sole indicators of right and wrong because some people are color-blind. This book takes that a step further by showing what different screens look like with different types of color deficiencies, and even gives Web sites that show you the same for your own designs.

Some of the most powerful lessons in the “How People See” chapter have to do with the impact of perspective and placement of elements on the screen, and how people interpret messages based on them. For example, if there are two blocks of text close to an image, with one below and one on the right, most people will associate the text below with the image, rather than the text on the right. The lesson for the visual designer who wants to create clearly understood interfaces is clear.

Weinshenk also debunks several myths about the readability of serif versus sans serif type, all-caps versus mixed case words, and longer versus shorter lines of text. Citing research study after study, she makes a distinction between practices that improve readability versus practices that change people’s perceptions of readability. Frustratingly, these effects are sometimes at odds, but at least this book helps you make informed decisions about how to design for each effect.

People don’t remember well

At all.

Several items in the “How People Remember” list might be a little frightening to people who design stuff that they hope learners will remember. At the same time, though, your experience with learners or friends and family has probably clued you in to how quickly people forget even important events, and how prone people are to fill in information around their gaps. To me, these facts together make a fairly compelling argument for favoring performance support over courses whenever possible so that learners don’t have to rely on memory. As Weinshenk writes, “Design with forgetting in mind. If some information is really important, don’t rely on people to remember it. Provide it for them in your design, or have a way for them to easily look it up.” Having said that, sometimes you do need your audience to remember something – especially in the short term. This book provides for that too, with guidelines for presenting information in ways that aid that process.

Emotion is important, too

As instructional designers, many of us are used to appealing to people’s brains with facts and data. But marketers know that behavior change more often comes from people’s emotions, and Weinshenk doesn’t neglect the emotional side of design. Throughout the book she pays a lot of attention to the importance of story in helping people make emotional connections to content, building intrinsic motivation to engage with content, and even understanding and retaining information.

In the “How People Feel” chapter, though, she hones in on specific ways to appeal to people’s emotions, such as using anecdotes instead of data, capturing attention through surprise, establishing trust through a site’s visual design, and promoting a sense of achievement through challenge.


As broad-based as this book is, it’s also a really easy read; each of the “100 Things” is no more than a few pages long and she writes in an entertaining and personal way. It’s easy to read straight through and it’s a great on-the-go read as well, as you can easily read a few things any time you have to wait for a plane, a bus, a train, or a meal. It would also be a great book for a design study group or, as I mentioned earlier, as jumping-off points for those who want to study more about how to design with a human audience in mind.

Have you read this book? Which of the “100 Things” was the most powerful for you as a designer? Let’s talk – comment below or tweet using #lswellread!

Bibliographic information

Weinschenk, Susan M. (2011) 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. Berkeley: New Riders. 256 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0321767530.

Publisher’s List price: $29.99

Amazon: Paperback $17.99, Kindle $10.80

Barnes & Noble: Paperback $17.99, NOOK $13.19