Thursday, January 03, 2008

Writing software for mutant women

For me, the best part of "Dead Ringers" (the David Cronenberg film, not the mildly amusing impressions show) is the gynaecological instruments developed by one of the freaky medical twins. He's so out of his head on drugs that he thinks the women who are coming to his surgery are all mutants so he has to produce some terrifying new instruments to deal with them.

What brought this to mind was seeing the film again for the first time in about 15 years and also reading one of my Christmas books, "Why Software Sucks". Although seemingly unrelated, I think there is some common ground. As Davis Platt points out many times in his book, the reason why software sucks is because us software developers don't understand our users. We may not be out of our minds on drugs (at least not all the time) but our lack of empathy with our users mean we continually produce software that doesn't meet their needs.

I'm mostly in agreement with him here, although I'm not sure if he's having a go at developers directly or more generally companies that produce software. As a rule, the actual developers don't always have much of a say in what gets pushed out the door. Product management, sales, marketing, CTOs, QA and a host of other people have a pretty big input into what goes into software and how it should look and feel, whereas developers are often just following orders.

There is a reason I'm not too keen on the book, it does tend to re-hash a lot of what Alan Cooper wrote in "About Face". To be fair he is aiming at a different audience, normal people, who are pretty unlikely to have read Cooper's book. Me being a geek and not a normal person have read Cooper's book and Platt's book. If you're a developer, I'd recommend "About Face", if you're just a normal person forced to use software, I'd recommend "Why Software Sucks".

And as a developer I'm trying my best to write software that is not for mutant women.

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