Marketing god Seth Godin says today:
Sharing a book is (almost) as good as writing one.
And when Seth speaks, I shall obey ;-). Considering I will not be able to write a book today, here is my take at the next best thing. There is a book I am reading right now that I find very worth sharing. It is called The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. This is not a book review or anything, as I am not even done reading it. I just wanted to give a short heads up, as I find it to be another gem that may otherwise be forgotten in time – even though it is still as relevant as it was 15 years ago when it was first published.
In short, it is a book about user interface design, mostly focused on interaction design and why it is needed. It starts a little slow by telling stories about how failed user interface designs have killed software projects in the past. Apparently, those are not too hard to find :-). This part I found entertaining – but not (yet) great. When it gets really interesting is when Alan Cooper (the author) goes into the details of why programmers and user interface designers so often misunderstand each other. As an example, here is a joke he tells in the book, where I really recognized my engineering roots again:
Three people are scheduled for execution: a priest, an attorney, and an engineer. First, the priest steps up to the gallows. The executioner pulls the lever to drop the hatch, but nothing happens. The priest claims divine intervention and demands his release, so he is set free. Next, the attorney takes a stand at the gallows. The executioner pulls the lever, but again nothing happens. The attorney claims another attempt would be double jeopardy and demands release, so he is set free. Finally, the engineer steps up to the gallows, and begins a careful examination of the scaffold. Before the executioner can pull the lever, he looks up and declares, “Aha, here’s your problem.”
Cooper claims that engineers belong to a different species called “Homo logicus“. This species has a tendency to accept failure as a price to pay for understanding. If you ever felt the urge to take something apart, were unable to put it back together again – but still felt good about having learnt how it works in the process, you might belong to that species. Chances are if you read this blog, you do belong to it :-). And then, according to Cooper, you should not be doing user interface design – as you are not like your users, who value success over anything else.
He has a point, I have to admit, observing how we engineers try to do user interface design – and often failing or creating results that are obviously poor. Luckily, I believe knowing this trap is a good way to avoid it – so with a bit of care and a bit of talent, I still believe engineers can be trusted to build user interfaces or at least change and enhance existing ones. And for the rest of the work, I am sure glad I have my User Experience Team :-).