I'm reading Designing for People at the moment (having discovered it through Peterme.com), and it's astonishing how relevant this book, written nearly 50 years ago, is to the work I'm doing today. An excerpt I've just gone past:
"This is a good place to point out that designing a telephone is not quite the same as designing a clock or a vacuum cleaner or a radio. In the accepted sense, there is no consumer sales problem. Telephone subscribers do not buy their telephones; they use instruments the Bell system makes available to them because telephones are part of the integrated overall service that they purchase from the telephone company. Yet salesmanship of the highest order is still involved. The Bell system owes much of its growth to its acute awareness of public relations and its alertness to the subtleties in the relationship of men and machines. The telephone people want each piece of equipment to be an ambassador of good will. The know the subscriber will be pleased, perhaps subconsciously, when he finds the handset grip is more comfortable than the old model and that the voices of his friends are transmitted more clearly."
Elsewhere, the author (Henry Dreyfuss) touches on designing using personas (Joe and Josephine), as per Alan Coopers The Inmates are Running The Asylum, and even digital rights management;
"It may be recalled that, at the inception of radio, fear was expressed that people would stop going to concerts if they could hear the same symphonies in their homes without cost. Yet concert-hall box-office receipts are proof that radio has educated a huge audience to good music."
It's a fantastic book, despite including a quantity of rather dated social commentary (mainly regarding the role of women in the kitchen), and almost a primer for designers of functional products. But even more than this, it's a stark reminder that the core of what we do each day isn't completely new: we're going over the same ground that industrial designers have been covering for the last half-century.