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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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 the Hardcover edition.
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.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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".Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
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. Read morePublished on 23 Mar. 2013 by D. Sanders
A great book. Must have for any software developer who cares about their software doing the right thing. Read morePublished on 10 Dec. 2012 by SP
In this book Alan Cooper efficiently illustrates the accurate point that users don't often know what they want when designing a system. Read morePublished on 31 Dec. 2010 by M. Mallia
Weighs in against the shoddy software designed and written by geeks/geek-wannabees - and the acceptance of this by everyone else. Read morePublished on 9 Mar. 2010 by Mr. N. Foale
Developing software and solutions myself for more than 20 years this book certainly woke me up and gave me the insight and explanation on why so many users fail using the software... Read morePublished on 16 Oct. 2009 by H. Kerrn
This is a highly readable and entertaining rant directed against the inadequate development practices of software engineers over the years. Read morePublished on 20 Feb. 2007 by James Christie
This book provides a wealth of knowledge if you can stick with it through the generalisations and attacks on the group of people who need this book the most. Read morePublished on 22 Oct. 2005 by Mr. Wayne Pascoe
The book addresses many areas of why the culture that exists in IT and firms that deal with IT is not working and why many IT projects go wrong. Read morePublished on 28 April 2005 by G. Traganidas
I've read this book and really felt that I had to respond to some of Ben Carey's and Matt Vane's comments (back in 2002 I think). Read morePublished on 7 May 2004 by Tasos