Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Inmates are Running the Asylum

Commented on:
John Zachery
Josh Meyers
Brian Salato

In Alan Cooper's "The Inmates are Running the Asylum", he talks about how the software engineers, the "inmates", are actually in control of how a software is designed and developed. While I was not totally aware of this situation, I do agree with him after reading his book. The ones who actually write the code inevitably have a great deal of leverage and say on how the program will turn out, and any other roles merely act as support and guidance to them. Cooper emphasizes on the difficulties users face when using today’s software and how they are ill-designed and therefore suffer from similar sub-par interaction interfaces. From cameras to planes, Cooper presents examples of how things are complicated when a computer is involved in the equation. He insisted that when something has a computer as part of this structure, it will ultimately act like a computer and have similar weaknesses. Cooper repeatedly states the importance of the role of a design engineer. A design engineer's main goal is to create a good interface with which the user can enjoy and improve their overall experience. A product’s development life cycle should include professional design engineers to layout a detailed plan before any code is written. I very much agree with this idea. Its true that writing programs are expensive, and having to rewrite something only adds to the amount of unnecessary costs. His analogy to movie making seemed to make sense. Even though each stage of development requires a different group of people, there doesn't necessarily have to be waste as the design team can begin working on the next project while the programmers get to work on their just-finished design. He proves that it is not the best idea to have the software engineers do the design work as that presents a conflict of interest. Good design may not be particular hard to come up with, but it’ll involve more work on the coders’ part and they may not be willing to put in that extra effort. Towards the second half of the book, I felt like this book became a why-you-should-hire-design-engineers guide for employers. Perhaps future software would be benefited if all managers and employers for software companies were to read his book. Overall, I enjoyed reading this book as it had some pretty interesting points, but I thought he tried a little too hard to push the design engineer’s importance and role onto his audiences.


  1. Well be careful. good design isn't always easy to come up with or we would have more of it

  2. This should certainly be a required read for software engineers or anyone in a related field. It does seem like he is trying to market a new type of design engineer though, but he still has a lot of good points that he brings up.