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Agile Interaction Design

Posted by Wed, 30 Aug 2006 19:36:00 GMT

6 comments Latest by Adrian Howard Mon, 04 Sep 2006 18:52:57 GMT

I would like to start some dialogue with all of you…

In a recent post, Jeremy Voorhis said the following about About Face 2.0 in his post announcing his Agile Book Club.

About Face 2.0 isn’t bad; it’s full of some great advice. My biggest gripes with it are the follows:
  • It declares that programmers are just unfit for interaction design.
  • It advocates for waterfall development.
  • Cooper has a defensive tone whenever discussing his beloved discipline of interaction design.
  • The web chapter is dated.
If you can get over all of those things, it is full of great ideas, specifically about working with personas, and data entry and retrieval.

I disagree with a few of these conclusions. In particular, that Cooper advocates waterfall development. I’ve been hearing a lot of developers throw the word, “waterfall” around… but why?

Take the following excerpt from this great conversation between Kent Beck, the father of XP, and Alan Cooper.

“During the design phase, the interaction designer works closely with the customers. During the detailed design phase, the interaction designer works closely with the programmers. There’s a crossover point in the beginning of the design phase where the programmers work for the designer. Then, at a certain point the leadership changes so that now the designers work for the implementers. You could call these “phases”—I don’t—but it’s working together.”[1]

I’m curious as to how anyone would consider this to resemble Waterfall, which might imply that Cooper’s approach to Interaction Design is incompatible with the principles behind the Agile Manifesto.

Dave Churchville posted an article last year titled, Agile Interaction Design?, which discussed how the role of an Interaction Designer (ID) can be compatible with Agile methodologies. “An ID team probably becomes the voice of the customer in Agile methods, and as such should be working closely with the development team as well as the users. In that sense, the ID role may be more of a liaison between customer and developer.”

So, do you think that Interaction Design as described by Alan Cooper… is compatible with the principles of the Agile Manifesto?

UPDATE It looks like this conversation was picked up on the Joel on Software discussion boards.


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    Larry Wright Thu, 31 Aug 2006 01:23:31 GMT

    I can’t find the link right now, but Cooper has argued repeatedly for Big Design Up Front, which is a lot closer to Waterfall than Agile.

  2. Avatar
    Justin Thu, 31 Aug 2006 05:37:09 GMT

    I think it’s important to remember that Cooper comes from an earlier generation of development (pre-Agile Manifesto). What I wonder is why developers would assume Cooper is in favor of Waterfall (traditional) methodologies? Are these developers suggesting that no up front design should be done prior to development? There isn’t any reason why you can’t follow Cooper’s principles in an Agile process by focusing on smaller pieces of the overall design and then implementing it.

  3. Avatar
    Greg Thu, 31 Aug 2006 06:03:47 GMT

    Robby -

    I just commented on Jeremy’s blog in regards to his comment that developers should learn more about interaction design. I agree completely.

    Have you read, The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Cooper? He appears to be trying his best to be public enemy #1 to programmers.

    You can read the Lost Chapter of Inmates, where he writes, “Interaction Design is the process that gives businesses the help they need to bring human values and scale back into business communications. Approaching the design problem from a human point-of-view, rather than from a technical one, softens the behavior of software, reducing the rudeness, complexity and inappropriate actions of software. Letting bad software deteriorate our business relationships is not inevitable if we make Interaction Design the first part of the product development process.”

    It’s great to hear that programmers are taking Interaction Design seriously. As programmers we must be honest about the following scenario. When a problem is presented that requires some user interaction, do you first thing about how you will build the solution or how the user will use the solution?

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    Robby Russell Thu, 31 Aug 2006 14:42:46 GMT Recommend me on Working with Rails


    remember that Cooper comes from an earlier generation of development (pre-Agile Manifesto).

    This is a good point. Most companies are following a more traditional development process. It would be unwise for us to immediate discredit that process because we wouldn’t have much of the software that we’ve been given. However, much of the software that we have been given has been horrible to interact with. ;-)

    Figuring out when Interaction Design should fall into your process seems to be the big question here. For most of my career in programming, Interaction Design always seemed to be an afterthought. At PLANET ARGON we’re starting to allocate more time before the coding process begins to begin a process of building wireframes and semi-interactive prototypes. This process involves a lot of back and forth with the client as well as the developers. It works well and we’ll share more of our process with people as we write about Project Illuminatus, which is currently in the prototype <—> product phase.

    We’re not predesigning the whole application and then passing it off to the developers. We focus on smaller pieces of the application and talk out a lot of the questions until we come to a group consensus. It’s nice to have developers and designers all agree on an approach and go with it.


    I have not read The Inmates are Running the Asylum yet. It’s on my purchase list though. :-)

  5. Avatar
    Dave Churchville Fri, 01 Sep 2006 00:55:29 GMT

    A few thoughts…

    Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? A: Just one, but the light bulb has to WANT to change.

    Yes, corny old humor, but relevant: Do interaction designers want to work in an Agile process?

    Or would they prefer to spend a few months interviewing users, modeling personas, constructing wireframes, doing usability testing on prototypes, and then presenting the results to the development team?

    That more than any other factor, in my opinion, is going to determine how well interaction designers (as well as QA, graphic designers, etc) can integrate with the rest of a development team.

    I don’t think there is any inherent conflict, but Cooper (at least in the interview and in other writings) doesn’t seem to agree.

  6. Avatar
    Adrian Howard Mon, 04 Sep 2006 18:52:57 GMT

    Cooper does seem to think (any many others in the IxD also seem to think) that all the “interaction design” elements need to be done before development starts. His attitude towards developers, especially in Inmates, seems positively antagonistic at times.

    I don’t think IxD is incompatible with Agile. – and so do a fair chunk of other people. Working on the user experience and the application at the same time seems to work well for me. Educating developers about usability issues makes things go better too.

    If you’re not already on it I’d recommend joining the agile-usability mailing list where the agile/usability folk try and be friends :-)