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The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity Paperback – 24 Feb 2004


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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Sams; 2 edition (24 Feb 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0672326140
  • ISBN-13: 978-0672326141
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.6 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 231,412 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 May 1999
Format: Hardcover
The manner in which Alan Cooper points out problems with many high tech products is thoughtful and insightful. The book contains many descriptive examples and entertaining anectodes to illustrate the problem of "dancing bearware". His case for the necessity of "interaction design" is convincing. Overally the book is thought provoking and educational. So why only three stars?
His accusation of engineers being the root cause of the problem is badly misguided, with a silly generalization of programmers as a whole. I develop software professionally for a living, and I certainly do not consider myself or my peers "techno-jocks". I do not look down upon end users any more than I would expect an M.D. to look down upon me for lack of knowlege about medicine. In the organizations I have worked in, I have seen that developers have the task of interaction design UNWILLINGLY thrust upon them due to miserable product specifications coming from sales and management. I have also seen useless gadget features come from sales and management more often than from engineers. From my experience, these things alongside unreasonable project plans and "we can fix it later" attitude on the part of managers have resulted in awkward products many customers dislike.
Also, the book was too self-referential. In some portions, it appeared that the author was advertising his own company.
It's a shame the "inmates running the asylum" theme and self-advertisements were over-emphasized. Aside from these things, this is a good read for both high-tech managers and engineers.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 May 1999
Format: Hardcover
In my experience with system design, it is rarely the engineers who add the "extraneous" features. We're a lazy bunch and like to design to spec. It's the non-technical people...the marketing department, the customer reps, who blather about the software doing this and that and the customer bites. The customer thinks they get all these great features, but when the technical folks try to explain why it's a bad idea, managment says "Just put it in, we already promised them."
Besides, who says you HAVE to upgrade?? Most people upgrade because they believe they need all the 'new features' the next version has. I'm sure you've realized that nobody is fixing bugs in these new versions...ahem..windows..ahem...
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43 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Benedict Carey on 12 Sep 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The most fundamental and consistent error throughout the book is the idea that usability, failure to meet requirements and lack of an adequate design phase are new phenomena, as consequences of this era's computer technology alone.

This simply isn't true. If it were books like "design for the real world" written by Papanek over 30 years ago would have been unnecessary, Three mile island wouldn't have happened, and no one would ever misdial a telephone.

Sadly Cooper does not present proper evidence for a 'new' problem, preferring an informal and anecdotal style and, in doing so, extrapolating his entire argument from false foundations. He also sees the need to invent a whole unnecessary set of jargon to use, with fairly woolly and subjective definitions.

There are constant inappropriate references and analogies to other forms of engineering (particularly building), their methods and traditions.

"In the industrial age, engineers were able to solve each new problem ... they made bridges, cars, skyscrapers, and moon rockets that worked well and satisfied their human users. .... But unlike the past [computer] things haven't worked so well. "
Is he implying there were no problems before? Tay bridge, Tacoma Narrows, Ford Pinto, Challenger shuttle, Soyuz-1 and Soyuz-11. All suffering from dangerous design flaws (and not isolated) and none of them had anything to do with computers.

By ignoring the reality of past and current failures in (non Software) engineering Cooper quickly leaps to the conclusion that we "... have encountered a problem qualitatively different from any they confronted in the industrial age".
Errr, no.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 24 Jun 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book could be a lot more dense; there are some interesting ideas, but theses could be presented on 80 to 100 pages easily. "Interaction design" is necessary, yes, I agree. But I don't like redundancy, at least not in such amounts.
The cure that Cooper proposes for insanity-inducing high-tech products could lead to some improvements, but perhaps not more or less than usability engineering or any other structured, conceptual, mature approach.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 16 Jun 1999
Format: Hardcover
I am a senior IT specialist with over 27 years in the field and was looking forward to reading Mr. Cooper's book until I read the reviews and noted his emphasis on technical personnel as the primary catalysts for poor software.
They may be a factor but not the primary catalyst. Unfortunately, it is and has always been corporate management that have initiated much of the problems we are all facing today. Computers in the hands of the individual or the scientist can offer a tremendous enhancement to their work and lives in an increasingly difficult and complex world. However, in the hands of business management and/or under their aspices the computer has become a plaything for fools who rampantly execute decisions against their technical communities based more on fantasy and personal agenda than that of reality and common sense. And since it is the business realm that produces much of what the consumer uses the results tend to be less than stellar.
Most fail to remember that technicians have very little say in the finality of their projects that are usually run by an organizational stream of management. This is not to say that there aren't plenty of bad technicians who are as equally guilty of incompetence and the infusion of their own personal agendas into a project. There are more than enough. Yet management has consistently failed to understand in depth the technologies they are having implemented which would then allow them to develop quality teams with a balanced forum for input from both sides. Instead, management prefers the "glory" of the technical implementation with the attitude that they they "don't understand this stuff".
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