Friday, 11 May 2012

Finished: The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity

The Inmates are Running the Asylum is a book by Alan Cooper about software design. Primarily that the culture around software design is pretty terrible and basically involves the wrong people (programmers) doing most of the design work.

It was written in the late 90s and fortunately the interface designs we see these days have improved, but this diminish the books fundamental points about approaches to design and project management.

The key problem with design by programmers is that programmers do not think like regular people, to be a good programmer you need to focus on ensuring that edge cases are handled and any given task should be either only completable once or an infinite number of times.

Normal people do not think this way, they think in terms of the general case, they also generally don't handle infinities most people are dealing with dozens of items at most.

The approach laid out in the book is to create and use personas associated with your product. These personas have names and characteristics. The point is to determine which persona(s) you are designing for. The point is not to make everyone slightly less unhappy, a great design is meant to make people that match that particular persona ecstatic.

This is something Apple does very well, they do not provide a lot of options, but they manage to instill loyalty in a great number of people because their designs make their products a joy to use for those people.

The other idea that I took from this book was to ensure when designing to focus on the goal, not on the individual tasks. Goals don't change much, tasks do. Tasks change with new technologies and changing costs.

I actually realised that the core idea behind my app was task based, it was more focused on the idea that I have this rear facing camera and microphone I want to use while taking notes. The goal is to get good and useful lecture notes, which means that I probably should take a slightly different approach.

The book was an interesting read, certainly not one I would have picked up myself, but a good one for anyone planning on creating software that they would like other people to enjoy using.

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