- 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 0.7 x 9.1 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (189 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #92,272 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.
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Top customer reviews
Where he goes totally off the rails is when he attacks stereotypes instead of people. He claims that every programmer thinks that he is different and can cross between coding and interaction design -- but none of them can. It turns out that he means that he was the first, and the last, one to be able to do so, because he is God. He claims that graphic designers are there to pretty up an interaction designers designs -- while ignoring the true amount of collaboration that has to be achieved between graphic design, interaction design, and programming to achieve any excellent software. His solution to bad design is to listen to nobody but the designer. (He never mentions the possibility of a subpar interaction designer.)
Finally he spends a lot of time attacking various management structures that are found at Microsoft and companies who mimic Microsoft. Well, I have worked in the NYC tech scene for 20+ years, and nobody here gives a damn about Microsoft's management practices. In the years since the book came out, it has turned out that nobody anywhere cares about Microsoft management practices anymore. It just felt like another rant about something that is relevant to nobody.
But if you wade through the extremist ranting, there really are useful messages and examples throughout the book. It's worth reading if you're in the business of making software.
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.
These shortcomings are not solved by adding a layer of another design person partially disconnected from the user, or making the screen prettier. It is by adapting the Extreme Programming/Agile programming methods of including the user in everything from design to testing, so the software reflects how the user does business.
I still liked the book, just not clear on the message.