UX Book Club – Alan Cooper’s: The Inmates Are Running the Asylum

In August, UX Melbourne is revisiting Alan Cooper’s classic book, The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. Join us at Loop Bar on 11th August for a trip down memory lane as we ask the question, has anything changed since 1998?

When is it?

Tuesday 11th August 2015 – gathering at 6.00pm we’ll start our discussions at 6:30pm. 

Where is it?

Loop Bar – 23 Meyers Place, Melbourne

How much does the event cost?

Nothing, it’s absolutely free.

Haven’t got time to read it before the meet up?

If you think you might not be able to read the book before the meet up then here are some quick summaries…

From the back cover:

From the Back CoverThe Inmates are Running the Asylum argues that, despite appearances, business executives are simply not the ones in control of the high-tech industry. They have inadvertently put programmers and engineers in charge, leading to products and processes that waste huge amounts of money, squander customer loyalty, and erode competitive advantage. They have let the inmates run the asylum. Alan Cooper offers a provocative, insightful and entertaining explanation of how talented people continuously design bad software-based products. More importantly, he uses his own work with companies big and small to show how to harness those talents to create products that will both thrill their users and grow the bottom line.


What does Amazon have to say:

The recurring metaphor in The Inmates are Running the Asylum is that of the dancing bear–the circus bear that shuffles clumsily for the amusement of the audience. Such bears, says author Alan Cooper, don’t dance well, as everyone at the circus can see. What amazes the crowd is that the bear dances at all. Cooper argues that technology (videocassette recorders, car alarms, most software applications for personal computers) consists largely of dancing bears–pieces that work, but not at all well. He goes on to say that this is more often than not the fault of poorly designed user interfaces, and he makes a good argument that way too many devices (perhaps as a result of the designers’ subconscious wish to bully the people who tormented them as children) ask too much of their users. Too many systems (like the famous unprogrammable VCR) make their users feel stupid when they can’t get the job done.

Cooper, who designed Visual Basic (the programming environment Microsoft promotes for the purpose of creating good user interfaces), indulges in too much name-dropping and self-congratulation (Cooper attributes the quote, “How did you do that?” to Microsoft chairman Bill Gates, upon looking at one of Cooper’s creations)–but this appears to be de rigueur in books about the software industry. But those asides are minor. More valuable is the discourse about software design and implementation (“[O]bject orientation divides the 1000-brick tower into 10 100-brick towers.”). Read this book for an idea of what’s wrong with UI design. –David Wall

If you’d rather consume Cooper visually:

Here’s a video link of Cooper talking about personas and design at an industry night in San Fransisco late 2014. It goes for an hour so curl up on the sofa with a coffee before you press play.