2 Great Technology Design Books

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2 Great Technology Design Books – Video Blog Transcript

I’d like to recommend a couple of books to you, both on the subject of design but from totally different perspectives.  The first book is Change by Design by Tim Brown who is the current CEO of IDEO, the industrial design firm.  The second book is The Design of Design by Frederick Brooks, who is the author of the famed Mythical Man Month and legendary figure in computer science.  He has been away from book writing for many years but has come back strong with another collection of essays on information technology design.  He was one of the software architects of the IBM/360 and has a lot of relevant perspectives based on his time at IBM and as a consultant, writer and researcher.

Change By Design takes us through a lot of the thinking that goes on at IDEO, the design firm that was famous for an episode of ABC’s Nightline (not PBS as I say in the video) in which they were given a challenge to re-design the shopping cart – a great example of IDEO in action.  In the book, Tim Brown talks about a number of the attributes of a great design firm, a couple that stood out for me.  The first is the notion of their teaming approach, which is in his terms an “interdisciplinary team.”  At Diamond, we talk about “multidisciplinary teams” – the idea that we bring together multiple skill sets in a single, seamless team.  At IDEO, they not only bring together disparate skills, but each team member is cross-trained in the other team member’s skills, further integrating the team.  Consider cross-training some of your technology design teams – could you have a UI designer also trained in data design and some back-end design to improve overall communication and understanding?

The second important attribute from IDEO that stood out was prototyping.  While prototyping at an industrial design firm is somewhat different due to its physical nature, maybe creating more physical prototypes can give us a different perspective in information technology design.  Take for example a great IDEO iPhone prototype that is nothing more than a big poster with a picture of an iPhone with the display cut out.  A guy is standing behind the cutout acting out what the application will do (it’s a game).  This is a great application of simple, physical prototyping to the design of software.  (An old colleague of mine called this “low fidelity prototyping”).

In the second book, The Design of Design, Frederick Brooks shares his perspectives on why waterfall methodologies don’t work.  He says that waterfall is a bad idea because we can never know all of a systems requirements up front.  Instead, he says we should be using rapid prototyping to describe initial ideas and then to iterate requirements with our users. As I’ve only scratched the surface of Frederick Brooks’ book, I’ll continue its review later post.

If we take the best prototyping ideas from Tim Brown and IDEO and those suggested by Frederick Brooks, maybe we can come up with some new ideas for addressing technology design in a new way.  Maybe by approaching this as a design problem, we can also address the very difficult requirements gathering process and subsequent estimating and planning that hamper many of our organizations.

I look forward to your thoughts on both these books if you’ve had a chance to read them, and this attempt at a video blog entry.

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