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Mark and Patricia McCloskey, fingers on triggers, aiming at protesters

A new story and an old story

Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the couple who pointed a pistol and an assault weapon at peaceful protesters in St. Louis last June, have filed suit against a news photographer who snapped their rumpled likenesses. The picture went viral and they instantly became an internet meme.

I can only hope that the judge is not insane and summarily dismisses the case. But the plight of the McCloskeys reminded me of a similar — and similarly tragicomic — case from years ago.

One of my favorite books is The Egg and I, a bestselling memoir originally published in 1945. The author, Betty MacDonald, lived on a remote chicken ranch and her stories were sensitive, observant, and often hilarious, but there were also meta-stories about her tales, and the McCloskey story reminded me of the biggest Egg and I meta-story. …


A serene view of a placid pond with a woman sitting on the end of a wooden dock, gazing at the waterbirds swimming.
A serene view of a placid pond with a woman sitting on the end of a wooden dock, gazing at the waterbirds swimming.

Why your company’s actions seem counterproductive

I have this recurring vision of tech practitioners as skilled origami experts, trying to fold paper into clever and graceful swans while their house is fully engulfed in flames. As quickly as they create the little paper animals they burst into flame. It doesn’t really matter that they are masters at their difficult and obscure craft because other issues obviate and destroy their good works.

Despite the thousands of conscientious, skilled practitioners who want nothing more than to create superb quality products with beguiling and powerful interactions, the businesses they work for are fully engulfed in the flames of runaway capitalism. The idea that a company is part of the community where it trades is gone. The idea that it’s in the company’s own best interest to maintain the health and welfare of its employees, users, and customers is gone. …


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The twenty-year war in Afghanistan is the longest in American history.

Even weapons. Especially weapons.

On 5 December 2001, an American Army Special Forces team entrenched Taliban soldiers outside Kandahar, Afghanistan, ordered an air strike against their foes. A waiting B-52 bomber responded quickly, dropping a single 2,000-pound precision-guided bomb. The huge bomb fell with digital precision directly on top of the American Special Forces team, killing three of them, along with five of our Afghan allies, and wounding at least 20 others, including Hamid Karzai, the recently chosen interim leader of Afghanistan. Tragically, the bomb fell precisely where it was directed to fall. A soldier accidentally instructed the bomber to drop its deadly load on his own position instead of the Taliban’s. The soldier accomplished this tragic mistake by misusing a standard-issue navigation device. …


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Lambs on Monkey Ranch.

The Band-Aid of UX

Software designers often speak of “finding the right metaphor” upon which to base their interface design. They imagine that rendering their user interface in images of familiar objects from the real world will provide a pipeline to automatic learning by their users. So they render their user interface as an office filled with desks, file cabinets, telephones and address books, or as a pad of paper or a street of buildings in the hope of creating a program with breakthrough ease-of-learning. And if you search for that magic metaphor, you will be in august company. …


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Springtime green.

Tech practice in a post-capitalist world.

Corporations pay tech practitioners to focus their attention on tactical minutia, so when we are not heads-down slinging code or spinning wireframes, we’re heads-down debating the efficacy of various languages, design systems, or whether agile is a cult or a religion. I think it’s time for us to lift our heads and examine the larger issues that we face. What are the most important concerns for an interaction designer today? What are the biggest questions tech practitioners face?

In decades past, businesses shared a broad set of goals that included caring for their employees, their customers, and the towns and cities in which they operated. Over the years corporations have jettisoned all concerns for others, all care for the environment they operate in, and the society that nurtures and supports them. …


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So many books so little time.

Books I’ve read in 2019

Here are all of the books I read last year, presented roughly in chronological order. For some reason I read fewer books this year than I have in past years. Then again, more of them were by women, so that’s good.

1. Slöjd in Wood, by Jögge Sundqvist (2018)

One half of sloyd is a discipline of woodworking using hand tools to make practical objects for daily use. The other half of sloyd is the daily use of practical hand tools as a discipline for learning. Picture grampa sitting on the porch whittling a stick with a pocket knife. Now imagine that he’s actually whittling something useful, a tool or a practical household item. Now imagine that you are learning this skill from grampa, and not coincidentally, learning about patience, design, thinking, and using your hands. …


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Tomales Bay, California

A purely aspirational litany.

Imagine a medium…

Whose essence is pure thought.
That is constructed purely from the arrangement of logic and intention.
That is completely invisible.
That is insanely complex.
That is composed of millions of extremely simple components arranged in fantastically complex ways.
That unlike things built from atoms, it has “behavior” in addition to function.
That doesn’t have to obey the laws of physics.
That is perfectly flexible.
That is utterly changeable.
That can be individualized for every single customer.

Imagine a factory…

Where you can manufacture an infinite number of products instantly.
Where there is no variable cost.
No cost of materials.
No cost of warehousing.
No labor cost to build.
No cost of materials transportation.
No materials waste.
Where the cost of building the first manufacturing proof is the sum total of all construction costs. …


It’s hard to be simple

Illustrated UX design concept with two personas, user cards, yes or no buttons, and audience demographics.
Illustrated UX design concept with two personas, user cards, yes or no buttons, and audience demographics.
Image: Nadezhda Fedrunova/iStock/Getty Images Plus

If you’ve worked in the software or web industry in the last 20 years, you’ve probably been introduced to the idea of “personas” — hypothetical archetypes — as a practical interaction design tool. Whether you hate or love this idea as a development tool, you can thank me. My book, The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, first published in 1998, introduced the use of personas. Based only on my single-chapter discussion in that book, personas rapidly gained popularity in the software industry due to their unusual power and effectiveness. Had personas been developed in the laboratory, the full story of how they came to be would have been published, but I invented personas over many years in my practice as a software inventor and design consultant. …


Don’t let yourself be compromised.

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Poppies growing in a ditch on Monkey Ranch

I wrote a really long post that meandered so slowly to the point that even I got bored. So I tossed it out and summarized the salient points here, written as briefly as I can (but with parenthetical links to my other relevant writing). If any of them need explanation or expansion, please let me know in the comments.

  1. Business managers lack effective tools for managing software design and development. (a)
  2. Businesses profit more from shady, hidden agendas and unethical back-channels than they do from making products users love. (b)
  3. Practitioners find themselves caught between the horns of the dilemma posed by points 1 and 2. …


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Sheep grazing on Monkey Ranch.

The agile conundrum

Agile programming is all about going slow. It’s about working in small increments and reassessing your work on a weekly, if not daily basis.

All the signature elements of Agile are intrinsically slow. Most notably, agile programming is done in pairs, where two programmers sit together and design and write code as a small, tightly knit team. This, of course, slows the coding process way down because everything is verbalized and because everything is given consideration. In essence, pair programming transforms what traditionally was an internal monologue into an external dialog.

The promise of agile isn’t speed but rather it’s about not building up technical debt and design debt. Programmers avoid technical debt by taking the time to refactor their code as they write it. They avoid design debt by having users, designers, or product owners review their recent work. When this happens, chances are that the work will have to be re-done. But redoing code is slow, time consuming, and to outsiders it appears to be a waste. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of the essence of software development. It simply doesn’t matter how long it takes to make code that users want, nor does it matter how quickly one can produce code that users don’t want. …

About

Alan Cooper

Ancestry Thinker, Software Alchemist, Regenerative Rancher

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