Most helpful positive review
Say You Want a Revolution...
on June 23, 2004
I found myself really getting into Cooper's book as I read it. He's an easy writer to read. He keeps things interesting with all sorts of anecdotes and experiences, and he describes them with tongue planted firmly in cheek.
That's not to say that he isn't serious about what he has to say... clearly, he is very serious. In describing the difference between a Designer and a Developer, and even in more detail when contrasting a Visual Designer and an Interaction Designer, he makes clear just how important this subject is, and how the differences he is talking about can determine the process by which a piece of software or application comes together, and the success of the final product. His obvious frustrations with the roadblocks to effective user-focused design should be understood by anyone involved in the design process.
The pinnacle of the book, for me, came in the middle. At the end of Part 3 ("Eating Soup with a Fork" -- great title), he discusses the relationship between humans and technology. He says something so simple that it should have been obvious, but it's really a fairly major shift in perception from what many people think. He talks about the assumption that technology is dehumanizing here:
"It doesn't require sophisticated tools to dehumanize your fellow humans -- a glance or a kick does it as well. It is not technology that is dehumanizing. It is the technologists, or the processes that technologists use, that create dehumanizing products."
This is important to what Cooper is trying to say in "Inmates" in so many ways. The theme of the book throughout seemed to be that interaction design is only as friendly, or as UN-friendly, as people make it. Technology only does what we tell it to, as we design and implement its specific functions.
The real revolution that this implies is the possibility that technology can be made to interact successfully with humans, and that it doesn't have to frustrate or debase the people who try to use it. In fact, as a human creation, technology is as human as we want to make it. As Cooper said in chapter 6, "For users to be happy and effective with software, it must be written in harmony with the demands of human nature."
But like anything, to make software effectively intereact with humans (i.e. more helpful, more usable, etc.) takes more work... one of the roadblocks. Cooper talks, also, about the established culture of programmers. He defines them as almost a seperate breed of humans, at least as far as their thought process and rationale... "Homo Logicus" as opposed to "Homo Sapiens." He talks about the rift that often appears between them, largely because of the cultural perception (mostly an obsolete view) that software is a solitary occupation, that programmers work in a vacuum and are the sole authors of their work.
The book makes it clear that the software design process can no longer be one which belongs to a solitary person. The creation of software works better as a collaborative effort than it does as a single-author process. Product planners, interaction designers, usability experts, testers, and yes, programmers all have their part to play, and when it comes together, it can yield great results.
Cooper's conclusion seems to be that the most fundamental changes to the software industry need to be made to the process. The people who make the software are, by and large, talented at what they do, and willing to change for the better if they can. It is when they are asked to do more than they should be that problems arise. A change to the process will ensure that better, more usable products can be made.
It seems that most of the people who do the work of making the software in question are willing to change the way they do things, but only need permission to do so. Cooper's take on it, which I agree with, is that it has become not only advisable to move on from the obsolete programming culture we have relied on in the past. If we want to make a change towards more usable products that end-users feel comfortable interacting with, then a change to the process of software creation to a more collaborative effort of interaction design and development becomes an imperative, at the very least.
Recommended to anyone involved in the software design process. Record it on tape and play it for project managers while they sleep.