Improving Wetware

Because technology is never the issue

Inmates are running the Asylum?

Posted by Pete McBreen 27 Sep 2010 at 21:09

It has been a while since I read The Inmates Are Running The Asylum, but I was still intrigued to se that Zed has an article on Products For People Who Make Products For People.

While it is true that Alan Cooper blames the programmer for the appalling state of many (most?) applications, there is a disconnect between how I read the Inmates book and the way the Zed reports it. We agree that programmers do not really have much control over the way that applications are designed, the “Product Manager” types in organizations control that these days., but in my view programmers still have a lot of influence.

The problem as I see it is that most programmers build applications with the toolkit that is ready to hand, as opposed to taking the time to create a better toolkit for the job. So when it comes to design the UI, even if an interaction designer has come up with a great idea for a widget, and the product manager wants to use the widget, the programmers influence this by claiming that it will be hard to do with the existing toolset. So what gets built in most cases is what can easily be achieved by the toolset.

Zed lives at the opposite extreme, having written both Mongrel and Mongrel2, so his experience is totally different - if the tools don’t do what they need to do, Zed writes a new tool. The rise of open source proves that Zed is not alone, and there has been a massive improvement in the usability of software being written by the better programmers, so things are changing.

The long bearded programmers are coming into their own and the designers like Alan are going to have to adjust their expectations, because experience programmers can do a good job with design, so the interaction designers are going to have to earn their money in the future.