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The Sins of Our Education System

As we all know, Agilists tend to frown on specialization. I am no exception. I tend to think that I take that sentiment a bit further though. I believe that designers should program and that programmers should draw wireframes. Before you dismiss me out of hand as a crackpot, hear me out.

Hopefully by now, most UX designers (and hopefully some developers) have read The Design of Everyday Things. Hopefully those same designers have accepted that their difficulty with mathematics subjects (if they have any) is a result of a flaw in the design of mathmatics courses rather than any failing of theirs. While they were staring out the window wondering what the world would look like if the grass were purple and we lived among androids, mathmatics education continued along on its deathmarch towards high school graduation. So some of the designers fell behind in mathmatics. Unfortunately, some of their parents or teachers told them (probably with a loving face) that mathmatics wasn't for them, and that was the end of the discussion.

If you tell a child that they can't do something, whether that communication was intentional or accidental the outcome is the same, the child will probably believe you. Several teachers told me that I was no good at math until one teacher, whose name I wish I could remember, actually sat down and figured out how to teach math to me. I got through high school algebra by osmosis. I never studied and I hardly ever turned in any homework. I got a 75 in the class. The teacher had a desicion (one that couldn't be repealed by the way) as to whether I'd go on to take Geometry or Informal Geometry. Geometry was supposed to set the stage for Algebra 2, Pre-Calculus, Calculus and mathmatics courses at university. Informal Geometry was social welfare's version of daycare for teenagers. It is my firm belief that because of the native ability and my in-class boredom that I demonstrated in Algebra 1 that I got placed in Informal Geometry; a decision which I believe I am still paying for. Yes I did some things wrong in that class, but the teacher was supposed to be the adult in the room and do what was best for me.

Fortunately, no one ever told be that I would be bad at programming.

My mom thought that since she and dad didn't have any artistic ability, by logical extension, neither would I. I am trying to undo the effects of that assumption by seeing as the artist sees hopefully with a little bit of help from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain.

Design as Analysis, Programming as Innovation

Designers think about the association between symbols and businesses and the relationship between words and message to build brands and make intuitive interfaces. What is that if not analysis? Isn't analysis one of the central activities of programming? Programmers find new solutions to old problems. What is that if not innovation? Isn't innovation one of the primary goals of the designer?

Designers have within them the ability to be programmers, and programmers have within them the ability to be designers. I think we all know there is value in trying to place yourself in the shoes of the other person by learning about their discipline. I think this needs to go beyond designers and programmers both speaking the native languages of the web (namely HTML, CSS and JavaScript).

I believe it is better to have teams of people who do not limit themselves to a single discipline rather than to have multi-disciplinary teams.

How can one claim to be a good Systems Architect or a good developer if they don't know anything about usability? How can one claim to be a good user experience designer if they don't understand a thing about the program underlying their interface?

Posted on Sunday, August 17, 2008 11:35 AM | Back to top


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