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  • Adam Behringer

    Seattle, Washington USA

    Adam is the founder of BEEDOCS, an artisan software company that makes great timeline software for Mac OS X.

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Inmates are Running the Asylum

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Inmates are Running the Asylum

An associate from Exbiblio loaned me this book a few weeks ago. I've been doing a lot of thinking about project management and design processes lately, so it was an appropriate read.

The main theme in the book is that engineers should focus on implementation and leave design to product designers. Alan Cooper makes some valid points but seems like he has a big chip on his shoulder. Of course, I do both engineering and design frequently. In fact, for Bee Documents, I am also in charge of marketing, keeping the books, and customer support too.

In any case, I don't have the luxury of giving these tasks to specialists at this point. I do agree with Alan Cooper though, that it is best to keep design and engineering separated. For example, I try to do most UI design away from the computer, preferably outdoors with a sketch pad or in a completely non-technical environment. Design and Engineering are simply different ways of thinking and it is nice to be in one mode or the other. When I'm designing I'm looking for the "best" way to do something and when I am implementing, I'm looking for the "most efficient" way.

The book starts to get good when Alan begins to discuss design techniques including the use of personas. A persona is an imaginary person that represents a typical user of the product. I first encountered the idea of personas about a year ago and thought they were lots of fun and useful. Alan Cooper does a great job of explaining the personas and I have recommended this book to several folks already for the persona chapter alone.

I have developed three personas so far for T2. They include a high school teacher who teaches American Literature, a malpractice attorney from New York who loves gadgets, and a student from India who is attending the University of Chicago and studying Anthropology.

Each of my persona has an age, a photo, likes and dislikes, etc... They are very much based on real people and what I have learned from my current customers. In fact, the photos I am using are a real Lit Teacher, malpractice attorney, and student that I found on the internet.

When faced with design decisions such as whether or not to include a certain feature, I can "ask" my personas whether they would value such a feature. If my personas don't like something about the software than it has to change! They haven't argued with each other yet, but if they do, I will have to do my best negotiate a compromise.

What was that about an Asylum...?

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