validate the css validate the xhtml

Ceci n'est pas une blog
by Glenn Franxman, Django Developer / Stunt Programmer.

The Iceberg Secret

posted: 2003-06-13 08:40:10 perma-link, RSS comments feed

Don't, for a minute, think that you can get away with asking anybody to imagine how cool this would be. Don't think that they're looking at the functionality. They're not. They want to see pretty pixels.

Wise words from JoelOnSoftware, though I think he misstates his own point, which really is that even though you could spend a relatively insignificant amount of time on the UI, you'll be much better off if you don't.

His rant follows...

You know how an iceberg is 90% underwater? Well, most software is like that too -- there's a pretty user interface that takes about 10% of the work, and then 90% of the programming work is under the covers. And if you take into account the fact that about half of your time is spent fixing bugs, the UI only takes 5% of the work. And if you limit yourself to the visual part of the UI, the pixels, what you would see in PowerPoint, now we're talking less than 1%.

That's not the secret. The secret is that People Who Aren't Programmers Do Not Understand This.

There are some very, very important corollaries to the Iceberg Secret.

Important Corollary One. If you show a nonprogrammer a screen which has a user interface that is 90% worse, they will think that the program is 90% worse.

I learned this lesson as a consultant, when I did a demo of a major web-based project for a client's executive team. The project was almost 100% code complete. We were still waiting for the graphic designer to choose fonts and colors and draw the cool 3-D tabs. In the meantime, we just used plain fonts and black and white, there was a bunch of ugly wasted space on the screen, basically it didn't look very good at all. But 100% of the functionality was there and was doing some pretty amazing stuff.

What happened during the demo? The clients spent the entire meeting griping about the graphical appearance of the screen. They weren't even talking about the UI. Just the graphical appearance. "It just doesn't look slick," complained their project manager. That's all they could think about. We couldn't get them to think about the actual functionality. Obviously fixing the graphic design took about one day. It was almost as if they thought they had hired painters.

Important Corollary Two. If you show a nonprogrammer a screen which has a user interface which is 100% beautiful, they will think the program is almost done.

People who aren't programmers are just looking at the screen and seeing some pixels. And if the pixels look like they make up a program which does something, they think "oh, gosh, how much harder could it be to make it actually work?"

The big risk here is that if you mock up the UI first, presumably so you can get some conversations going with the customer, then everybody's going to think you're almost done. And then when you spend the next year working "under the covers," so to speak, nobody will really see what you're doing and they'll think it's nothing.

Important Corollary Three. The dotcom that has the cool, polished looking web site and about four web pages will get a higher valuation than the highly functional dotcom with 3700 years of archives and a default grey background.

Oh, wait, dotcoms aren't worth anything any more. Never mind.

Important Corollary Four. When politics demands that various nontechnical managers or customers "sign off" on a project, give them several versions of the graphic design to choose from.

Vary the placement of some things, change the look and feel and fonts, move the logo and make it bigger or smaller. Let them feel important by giving them non-crucial lipstick-on-a-chicken stuff to muck around with. They can't do much damage to your schedule here. A good interior decorator is constantly bringing their client swatches and samples and stuff to choose from. But they would never discuss dishwasher placement with the client. It goes next to the sink, no matter what the client wants. There's no sense wasting time arguing about where the dishwasher goes, it has to go next to the sink, don't even bring it up; let the clients get their design kicks doing some harmless thing like changing their mind 200 times about whether to use Italian Granite or Mexican Tiles or Norwegian wood butcher-block for the countertops.

Important Corollary Five. When you're showing off, the only thing that matters is the screen shot. Make it 100% beautiful.

Don't, for a minute, think that you can get away with asking anybody to imagine how cool this would be. Don't think that they're looking at the functionality. They're not. They want to see pretty pixels.

Steve Jobs understands this. Oh boy does he understand this. Engineers at Apple have learned to do things that make for great screen shots, like the gorgeous new 1024x1024 icons in the dock, even if they waste valuable real estate. And the Linux desktop crowd goes crazy about semitransparent xterms, which make for good screenshots but are usually annoying to use. Every time Gnome or KDE announces a new release I go straight to the screenshots and say, "oh, they changed the planet from Jupiter to Saturn. Cool." Never mind what they really did.



Ravichandra commented, on August 21, 2012 at 8:13 a.m.:

OK, So I've been waiting for weeks, and more, for sontmhieg to appear on your blog, and when it finally appears .I couldn't read it all. I got about half way through when I had this insatiable desire for Italian sausage on a thick slice of Ciabata bread and a glass of Chianti. After that I really didn't care about anything else. Maybe tomorrow.there are 2 kinds of people those who just like Italian sausage, and those who love it!


Marine commented, on June 29, 2013 at 8:05 p.m.:

Stuart, if you are right, a few things come to mind:Say you save a large part of your inmoce - what do you with it? How do you counter the various risks in an unpredictable environment?Does it make any sense to have a pension plan at all? Assuming their managers are inadequate at forecasting the coming difficulties. Does it make sense to save and invest on an individual basis? Another thought is that while stock markets in the USA may not perform well, others may do better (Brazil? I am no expert). As you point out, demographics (age pyramids) play a big role in the problem. The most intelligent commentator on age-economy issues to my mind is Edward Hugh from "A fistful of Euros" blog (and several other blogs). But he does see promise in several emerging economies. Admittedly he is blind to the energy predicament.Personally it seems that, given I am no investor, the most reliable pension plan is a rental property in a place where demand for housing is not going to collapse.

Post a comment

Based upon your reading habits, might I recommend:

Or, you might like:

Copyright © 2003,2004,2005,2006,2007,2008 GFranxman. All Rights Reserved

hosting: powered by: django. written in: python. controlled by: bzr. monsters by: monsterID.

You've been exposed to: {'Programming': 1}