Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




User Interface and Engineers

http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/archive/dilbert-20020923.html
http://www.dilbert.com/comics/dilbert/archive/dilbert-20020924.html

Leonardo Herrera
Tuesday, September 24, 2002

These made my day!

The thing that always irritates me is that software engineers confuse creating widgets and laying them out with user interface design.  Or worse, when they assume that just because they can use a particular user interface that somehow qualifies them to design one.

I've known a few good interface designers. I've known many more that thought they were good.

Jeff Kotula
Tuesday, September 24, 2002

I think engineers are the best people to design interfaces, all they need is to read a book on good design (Like Joels) and once they are aware of the principles - apply them.
Lets face it, its not rocket science.
Most engineers just dont have the interest to do it.
Having 'design specialists' who consider the 'human aspects' is benign and trivial, just educate the people who do all the hard work anyway.

Tony
Tuesday, September 24, 2002

I cracked up!

Reminded me of an engineer I knew who created the most godawful demo ever.  He said that he wanted to show his creativity by using the colors nobody else ever used.  Luckily, I redid it before the clients saw it, or we would've been cleaning puke out of the carpet.

But, you know, I took that sweet but clueless boy and turned him into a reasonable designer.  Bought him a color wheel and showed him how to use it.  Wish I'd had a book like Joel's.  Convinced him that photography was a good outlet for his creativity, and that for demos he should stick to "not sucking" as a reasonable goal.  Which he has.

Contrary Mary
Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Some people are good UI designers; some aren't. Some are software engineers; some aren't.

Still, if it's in Dilbert, it must be right.

Engineer and Designer
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

"I think engineers are the best people to design interfaces, all they need is to read a book on good design (Like Joels) and once they are aware of the principles - apply them.
Lets face it, its not rocket science."

Dear Tony,

You must be joking. If you're not, read on.
Engineers are the worst people to design interfaces. An engineer can learn to be a designer, or have good aptitude to become one, just like everyone else.

And though not rocket science, it is nothing like engineering. And it is nothing like usability testing, psychology, congnitive sciences, and a few more related, though not replacement, areas of expertise.

It is all about learning who you are designing for and what the goals of those people are. And then designing suitable tasks and activities represented by fitting control elements and layouts.
It is about not anoying or insulting users. It is about not exposing technical design and implementation. It is about not having the device or computer asking stupid questions, like do I want to save the changes to my report that I have just been working on for three hours.

While engineering is about finding the right technology to satisfy the design. About interconnecting that technology effeciently, effectively, and correctly. And about many more technical issues that no user is really interested in.

Both are equally satisfying jobs. Both are essential. Neither are any less noble than the other (and numerous other activities involved in creating a product).
But none of them are simple or trivial. And they cannot be effectively done by the same person at the same time, because of the serious conflict of interest of pleasing the user on the one hand and pleasing the CPU on the other.

Witness so many horrible interfaces and wonder what is really wrong with them. Is it simply the wrong widgets, or the wrong tasks, information, or dialog (who needs a dialog with a computer anyway)?

Erik
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

I did my undergraduate work in mechanical engineering, so I *know* a program that teaches you how to calculate fluid flows through an irregularly shaped nozzle is swell - but it in no way prepares you for a career in software engineering. 

I can't take my MSCS and get a job as an industrial engineer, so why the heck do engineers feel they're qualified to design GUIs or anything else software engineers have been trained to do?!?

anon
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

There's another side of this question too: just because someone's NOT an engineer doesn't mean they're a good UI designer.

There is an enormous amount of skill and knowledge needed for high quality UI design, and some of that is programming knowledge.

Engineer and Designer
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Engineers (because they are human) have the ability to do good design. Just like anybody else they have to take the time to learn its principles. As mentioned above, many non-engineers are crap designers too, its a skill like any other.

I hate cliche's.

Tony
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Maybe the issue is that somehow engineers gain some bias because of the way they see their systems?  Maybe this is also the reason for another stereotype that programmers are terrible at testing for their own bugs too?

Greg Neumann
Wednesday, September 25, 2002

Ive always seen the problem as being one of perspective.

One of the reasons engineers suck at design is that they know how the underlying code works, and that affects how they build the interface.
Interface design is a form of trickery, or illusion, a good interface has no relationship to the underlying data or program design.
There is nothing to stop an engineer from creating a good interface, providing he has no idea how the program is designed and written,  and no desire to learn :)

...and of course is willing to put in the time and user testing required.


<g> personally I rather enjoy just doing what Im told when it comes to user interface.

design genius
Thursday, September 26, 2002

Disagree. A writer or an artist knows about the subject they're representing, and they still map the representation to different groups. That's the art.

So too a UI designer maps representations to particular groups, and they can do this even if they know the underlying code.

Engineer and Designer
Thursday, September 26, 2002

Maybe I'm not getting it.  Should the topic of this thread more precisely be:

"User Interface and *Software* Engineers",

or should it be:

"User Interface and  Electrical, Mechanical, Industrial Engineers etc."?

My point is, given that Dilbert is an *Electrical* engineer, why is he implementing a GUI?  In fact, if it's not embedded code, there is no reason for Dilbert to be bothering himself with the concerns of software engineers at all.  I don't waltz over and design circuit boards in his department... why the heck should he feel the need to code real software with no knowledge of algorithms, or object oriented design techniques, or relational data modeling, or formal multi-threading techniques, or language theory or, AI concepts, or anything else that a software engineer has studied which prepares a person to create professional code.

If a person is an engineer who is not a software engineer, his code is inevitably an amateurish pile of spaghetti-like procedural crap. 

anon
Thursday, September 26, 2002

anon, Dilbert is a comic strip character, not a real person :)

You bring up a very good point - just as UI designed by sw engineers tends to be lousy, so is the code written by hw engineers. In fact, with any task, a trained person can do a much better job than an amature. Just because you have the tools to do something easily, doesn't mean you can do it well.

igor
Thursday, September 26, 2002


Oh, always believed that Dilbert was a software engineer.

:-)

Leonardo Herrera
Thursday, September 26, 2002

"Disagree. A writer or an artist knows about the subject they're representing, and they still map the representation to different groups. That's the art. "


Thats rather the point though isn't it.....the number of artists and writers that are actually *good* show how hard this is to do.

design genius
Thursday, September 26, 2002

Hard to do, sure. But that doesn't change my point.

Engineer and Designer
Thursday, September 26, 2002

I think this is probably my favorite flamewar topic on this forum...definitely in the top three.

Dunno Wair
Tuesday, October 01, 2002

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home