- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Sams - Pearson Education; 1 edition (March 5, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0672326140
- ISBN-13: 978-0672326141
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 179 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,323 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity 1st Edition
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The recurring metaphor in The Inmates are Running the Asylum is that of the dancing bear--the circus bear that shuffles clumsily for the amusement of the audience. Such bears, says author Alan Cooper, don't dance well, as everyone at the circus can see. What amazes the crowd is that the bear dances at all. Cooper argues that technology (videocassette recorders, car alarms, most software applications for personal computers) consists largely of dancing bears--pieces that work, but not at all well. He goes on to say that this is more often than not the fault of poorly designed user interfaces, and he makes a good argument that way too many devices (perhaps as a result of the designers' subconscious wish to bully the people who tormented them as children) ask too much of their users. Too many systems (like the famous unprogrammable VCR) make their users feel stupid when they can't get the job done.
Cooper, who designed Visual Basic (the programming environment Microsoft promotes for the purpose of creating good user interfaces), indulges in too much name-dropping and self-congratulation (Cooper attributes the quote, "How did you do that?" to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, upon looking at one of Cooper's creations)--but this appears to be de rigueur in books about the software industry. But those asides are minor. More valuable is the discourse about software design and implementation ("[O]bject orientation divides the 1000-brick tower into 10 100-brick towers."). Read this book for an idea of what's wrong with UI design. --David Wall
Topics covered: User interfaces--good ones and bad ones--and where they come from. Also, how to improve the ones you create.
From the Back Cover
Imagine, at a terrifyingly aggressive rate, everything you regularly use is being equipped with computer technology. Think about your phone, cameras, cars-everything-being automated and programmed by people who in their rush to accept the many benefits of the silicon chip, have abdicated their responsibility to make these products easy to use. "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum" argues that the business executives who make the decisions to develop these products are not the ones in control of the technology used to create them. Insightful and entertaining, "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum" uses the author's experiences in corporate America to illustrate how talented people continuously design bad software-based products and why we need technology to work the way average people think. Somewhere out there is a happy medium that makes these types of products both user and bottom-line friendly; this book discusses why we need to quickly find that medium.
Top customer reviews
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I'm a junior high teacher by trade, so I'm going to particularly recommend it to teachers. Students, just like tech consumers, come in a variety of levels of understanding. One of the biggest challenges is to cater a lesson to smart students, slow students, and all the students in between. Teachers, like programmers, like all of us, tend to assume that others' experience is similar to their own, so they plan with themselves in mind. This book helps explain how to break out of that mentality and design for everyone.
Somewhere along the line, Cooper switches gears from talking about the problems of software to talking about the problems of people. This is a logical step, but Cooper proceeds to advocate a strict hierarchy where programmers are isolated from the big picture because they, frankly, think like computers and are therefore potentially hazardous to users.
This would make sense if we lived in a world where you can assume all black people are lazy because you saw one sleeping in a hammock. Cooper's generalizations stretch to the point where he claims a developer cannot be a good designer because of the way they think. Speaking as both a designer and developer, Cooper is simply wrong about this.
What makes Cooper's book forgettable is that he is not advocating for better technology through educating the public. Rather, he is advocating better technology by pushing social roles onto people with preconceived overgeneralizations of how people think. Cooper would say to you "You are the kind of person that should... [BLANK]"
The title of my review sums up the categories of people Cooper makes up. Interaction designers and business people are good because they care about the end users, who are clueless to what the bad ol' developers are trying to do to them. While Cooper's dream for better products is noble and just, he feels that the ends justify the means.
The problems in Cooper's book are not products of developers running the world (as he insinuates), it's about communication. Managing developers and communicating user needs to different departments is a difficult, context-centric task with no set formula.
But Cooper offers a formula for how people should behave, and that is why I can't take him seriously.