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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: 15.4 x 1.8 x 23.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 95,182 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

Amazon Review

In this book about the darker side of technology's impact on our lives, Alan Cooper begins by explaining that unlike other devices throughout history, computers have a "meta function": an unwanted, unforeseen option that users may accidentally invoke with what they thought was a normal keystroke. Cooper details many of these meta functions to explain his central thesis: programmers need to seriously re-evaluate the many user-hostile concepts deeply embedded within the software development process.

Rather than provide users with a straightforward set of options, programmers often pile on the bells and whistles and ignore or de-prioritise lingering bugs. For the average user, increased functionality is a great burden, adding to the recurrent chorus that plays: "computers are hard, mysterious, unwieldy things." (An average user, Cooper asserts, who doesn't think that way or who has memorised all the esoteric commands and now lords it over others, has simply been desensitised by too many years of badly designed software.)

Cooper's writing style is often overblown, with a pantheon of cutesy terminology (i.e. "dancing bearware") and insider back-patting. (When presenting software to Bill Gates, he reports that Gates replied: "How did you do that?" to which he writes: "I love stumping Bill!") More seriously, he is also unable to see beyond software development's importance--a sin he accuses programmers of throughout the book.

Even with that in mind, the central questions Cooper asks are too important to ignore: Are we making users happier? Are we improving the process by which they get work done? Are we making their work hours more effective? Cooper looks to programmers, business managers and what he calls "interaction designers" to question current assumptions and mindsets. Plainly, he asserts that the goal of computer usage should be "not to make anyone feel stupid." Our distance from that goal reinforces the need to rethink entrenched priorities in software planning. -- Jennifer Buckendorff, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By D. Sanders on 23 Mar 2013
Format: Paperback
I will confess, it is some years since I read this book, so my appraisal will be vague, perhaps completely irrelevant and really just an excuse for me to rant about my current job. However, this book did leave an impression on me and, as a UI Designer/Developer, it did express the frustration that I felt in my experience of the software development process and explained why so often it produced bad products.

I make a distinction between front-end and back-end developers. There are some that do both very well, but on the whole I see people specialising. The two camps are often identified by different mental attitudes and perspectives, not just about software, but about people and the world. Front-end people tend to be more in tune with the physical and emotional experience of using software; they enjoy visuals, sound, style and art, have technical expertise, but enjoy it for the experience it creates. Back-end people tend to be more into the engineering, generally have deeper technical expertise and concentrate on functionality and performance. Obviously these are very loose definitions, but they are complimentary when there is mutual respect.

I'm sure that we have all seen examples on software forums of one poster presenting a problem with code examples and another more experienced poster not only posting a solution, but with a fraction of the code. One can't help but admire this kind of elegance and efficiency; the kind of mind and the depth of understanding that can distil and optimise down to only the absolute essentials, but also allow for extension.
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13 of 14 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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2 of 2 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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