Software Design and Usability

I recently read Software Design and Usability (2000) by Klaus Kaasgaard. It is basically a light read and consists of six interviews with the following distinguished software design and usability people:

  • Bonnie Nardi – The Professional Stranger
  • Jakob Nielson – The Unbearable Lightness of Web Design
  • David Canfield Smith – The Art of Programming
  • Austin Henderson and Jed Harris – Beyond Formalisms: The Art and Science of Designing
  • Terry Winograd – On Hermeneutics and Software Design
  • Stephanie Rosenbaum – Making Usability Research Usable

Most of the interviews were conducted in 1999. At this time period many companies were asking what usability is and how to conduct it. There were not many usability companies out there. A few larger companies had internal usability people. One of the good pieces of advice was that most of the interviewees advocated conducting ethnography studies with users. The chapters I enjoyed the most were by David Smith, Jakob Nielson, and Stephanie Rosenbaum. It was interesting to hear about the projects going on at Stanford University at the time under the supervision of Terry Winograd such as the early beginnings of Google.

There were many quotes in the book. Two of the memorable quotes I really like were from Stephanie Rosenbaum:

The people who are more successful at achieving their goals in life – regardless of what the goals are – are the ones who can exercise the discipline to, at least sometimes, put aside something that really is urgent to do something that is less urgent but more important.


Well I don’t think the most serious problems with usability have changed in 30 years. The most serious problem is that software is not designed to address users’ goals, but rather to be cool or to have more features that the last product or something like that. To be successful from the users’ point of view, software should support people as they go through the tasks that they must do to achieve their own goals.

Karen Takle Quinn also wrote a Review of Software design and usability (see PDF).


About Craig Anslow

Craig Anslow is a Lecturer in Software Engineering at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, with research interests in software visualization.
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