Jun 21, 2004

Complex and Eccentric People...

As has been mentioned in several of my previous entries, I am presently reading The Inmates Are Running The Asylum by Alan Cooper. While I agree with portions of his book, I find others to be whiny and yet others to be greatly exaggerated. The case in point is in Chapter 7 where he compares Homo Sapiens to Homo Logicus.

While he tends to paint a his "programmers" quite well, the problem with this is that he separates "programmers" from humans, but in reality, they are humans in themselves.

Take, for example, someone who can continually modifies his car without ending. Suddenly his car has a Snyper front and rear bumper, complete with the matching side skirts; the car has a Grifter spoiler, a G-Force hood, 17 inch Momo M1 Mags, Neon lights beneath the car, tinted windows, and various decals on the car, but this is only the outside. This car has a cold air intake system, cat-back exhaust system, short throw shift kit, shifter stabilizer kit, a lightened flywheel, a Turbo kit, compound brake pads with steel braided brake lines and cross drilled rotors, a strut tower bar, and sport performance springs and shocks. For added performance, the rear seats and some panels have been removed and this car has no spare tire. And I am not even going to begin to cover the audio system, seats, and other interior items (My sincere apologies for mistakes herein, as its based off my seat of Need For Speed Underground).

Now there's a mouth full. And surely, you know someone like this. He will tell you much more about his car than you really want to know. My point in this is that here is someone who has accepted a complex configuration over the simplicity of just going down to your favourite automaker and ordering Car X. And I am also quite certain that this person would prefer to be in the cockpit of the airplane. In order to be able to modify this car, he must have some type of understanding of the car's components. I'd even be willing to bet that Alan's response to his clock example would be quite similar in a room full of car enthusiasts.

The eccentric behaviour that Alan also associates with developers is also misleading. I mean, think of any classical composer. For example, Erik Satie returned to school at one point on the premise that in order to break the rules of composition, he had to know the rules, not to fail to mention his crazy Parade ballet, his throwing of Madame Suzanne Valadon out the windor, etc.

While the car enthusiast and the eccentric musician share some similarities with the developer, there is definitely one aspect that is different. If I do not like the enthusiast's car, I can discussions with him or not park near him, etc. If I do not like the eccentric musician's music, I simply do not listen to it and avoid talking to him. In this, I can manage my own conflict (as per Christopher Alexandre's The Timeless Way of Building).

In the case of software developers, it is not always so easy to control these conflicts. Everyone has an application that they really hate to use for whatever the reasons, but you have to use it because, for example, you cannot do your job without it.

And I think this is the point he is trying to make. Interaction design is an important aspect of developing software, and most developers do not have the required skill to make applications really useful. It is not about adding more functionality, it is about making useful software easy to use.

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