Tag Archives: thoughts

The Decline of Process and the Rise of ‘Good Enough’

Designing and building software is at least as complex and demanding of intellectual labour as the building of ships, large buildings or suspension bridges. If the number of failed software projects is anything to go by, perhaps it’s is even more difficult than these.

CC SA Photography by User: MrX
CC SA Photography by User: MrX

In modern history at least, the underlying assumption when performing complex projects like building railways or operating systems has been that you should at least apply forward planning and preferably repeatable processes as well.

However, in recent years two things have changed this assumption in software development. The first is the Agile movement and the second is a general acceptance of imperfection in exchange for novelty or availability.

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Sketchy Debate

It seems like not too long ago, many IA/UX designers fought endless battles on mailing lists and Usenet about whether Visio was better than Freehand which was better than Omnigraffle which was better than Excel (no, really, I’ve seen people use Excel to express UI ideas). There was always some software or other that totally rocked while some other tool sucked. Almost as boring and futile as the OS wars. Perhaps I just learnt to ignore it all. But if I remember correctly, didn’t we all reluctantly agree that when it comes to getting to the best execution of an idea, it’s what you do, not how you do it, that counts?

Perhaps not, as there seems to be an increasingly vocal band of people who want to make a point about  how wonderful the act of “sketching” on paper is. Moreover, that some people see this as an issue of “sketchists” vs non-sketchists allows me to see this in similar terms to the aforementioned tool wars. There is certainly nothing wrong with a quick scribble to crystallize your thoughts or to demonstrate an idea to somebody. I would also broadly agree with Jason Mesut here (although isn’t it stating the obvious?). But the further you go in this, the less clear the benefits of sketching become.

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The Data of Dates

I’ve blogged before about how I think calendars are to dates what pie charts are to numbers, but recently I’ve been thinking a bit more about this issue.

The background to this was a discussion I had several months ago around the pros and cons of using calendars for date range selection, for example in booking a hotel. As with many design issues, this is one heavily encrusted with tradition and gripped by the dead hand of the “design pattern.” In an attempt to think about it more effectively, I cast the calendar (in the context of date range selection) as an anti-pattern: wasting space; requiring you to interact in more than one dimension; an inappropriate emphasis on days of the week, and other problems. In response, I came up with the idea of a time line instead. That too had flaws (not least because my initial approach attempted to build in too much into a single UI), but I think it had legs.

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