In 10 words or less, what is software design to you?

3 Jul 2009 - 10:08pm
4 years ago
8 replies
543 reads
russwilson
2005

At the end of a recent interview, the candidate asked me “What is software
design to you?” I can probably come up with a thousand different answers
but the one that popped into my mind immediately that day was “*software
design is making the ordinary extraordinary*.”

Okay, so maybe it won’t get me a mention in Businessweek, but what I was
trying to capture and communicate was that software design in particular is
largely about taking unglamorous tools and making them functionally robust
and efficient, rewarding to use, and aesthetically pleasing. We aren’t
artists, but we are creatives. We aren’t rocket scientists, but we’re smart
and talented. And every day we have to use our creativity, smarts and talent
to design the best tools for people to use.

*So I’m interested… in 10 words or less, what is software design to you?*
Enter more than one if you like (as seperate comments).

(would love to get comments on my post about his so that I can collect them
all in one place):
http://www.dexodesign.com/2009/07/03/in-10-words-or-less-what-is-software-design-to-you/

--------
Russell Wilson
Vice President of Product Design, NetQoS
Blog: http://www.dexodesign.com
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/russwilson

Comments

4 Jul 2009 - 2:34pm
Jim Leftwich
2004

1. Yet
2. another
3. exercise
4. in
5. design
6. semantics
7. from
8. here
9. to
10. eternity

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=43357

4 Jul 2009 - 3:10pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jul 4, 2009, at 10:01 AM, Russell Wilson wrote:

> Jared's additions make my definition so much better!
>
> I specified software for 2 reasons:
> 1) that's how the question was worded to me
> 2) I don't feel qualified to define design beyond software design
>
> As for my choice - we aren't designing Ferrari's... we are designing
> tools for people to
> buy children's clothing and calculate their taxes. Hence the
> "ordinary"...

I'm really confused. Because if this is for NetQoS, from the company
web site, it doesn't like you're designing any tools for buying
clothing or calculating taxes. It looks like the company makes network
performance monitoring and analysis tools. (The big clue was "Network
Performance Management" on the home page.)

If you're talking about downstream users, many generations away from
your product, then you are designing Ferraris as much as you're
selling clothing.

Which is why I'm confused by the inclusion of "software".

It sounds like you're trying to create some sort of tag line or
elevator pitch.

Scene: Cocktail party
Her: So, cutie, what do *you* do?
You: I make the ordinary extraordinary.
Her: ooooh. Can you make some of my ordinary a little extraordinary?
You: Um, I should go see what my wife, who I love very much, is doing
right now... [scampers quickly to the kitchen, sweat beating from his
brow.]

Taking Chauncey's entry (minus the poetic linefeeds), "Creating
quality code that drives useful usable engaging user interfaces," and
tightening it a bit, why not just say, "Creating great experiences for
our customers and their users"?

Jared

4 Jul 2009 - 3:51pm
Dan Saffer
2003

On Jul 3, 2009, at 8:08 PM, Russell Wilson wrote:

> At the end of a recent interview, the candidate asked me “What is
> software
> design to you?” I can probably come up with a thousand different
> answers
> but the one that popped into my mind immediately that day was
> “*software
> design is making the ordinary extraordinary*.”

Except when it is about making the extraordinary ordinary, which is
more frequently the case. It's easy for us to forget how magical most
of our digital devices and software really are.

Dan

4 Jul 2009 - 8:42pm
Jared M. Spool
2003

On Jul 4, 2009, at 4:23 PM, Russell Wilson wrote:

> I currently lead the design of network performance mgt software
> applications at my company. I have also designed countless
> applications in the past that have nothing to do with network perf
> mgt. And I have designed several websites for small businesses.
>
> But what does that have to do with anything??? This has nothing to
> do with the company I work for. And why are you so hung up on the
> word "software"? Do you think what you do is exactly the same as
> what an automotive designer does? Do you think there are any
> distinctions?
>
> I don't need an elevator pitch nor a cocktail party one-liner
> (although I do like your scenario). I'm really interested in how
> people in our field of design characterize what they do.

I guess I'm hung up on the prototype you proposed in your initial post:

> At the end of a recent interview, the candidate asked me “What is
> software
> design to you?” I can probably come up with a thousand different
> answers
> but the one that popped into my mind immediately that day was
> “*software
> design is making the ordinary extraordinary*.”
>
> Okay, so maybe it won’t get me a mention in Businessweek, but what I
> was
> trying to capture and communicate was that software design in
> particular is
> largely about taking unglamorous tools and making them functionally
> robust
> and efficient, rewarding to use, and aesthetically pleasing.

"...making the ordinary extraordinary" seems very generic to me,
whereas "software design" seems fairly specific. (I hang out, because
of my son's profession, with a lot of magicians and special effects
artists these days. Those guys think they've cornered the market on
'making the ordinary extraordinary'. And I find it hard to believe
that Ferrari's designers don't think they are 'making the ordinary
extraordinary.' Likewise, there ain't nothing ordinary about this
$2.1m Bugatti: http://is.gd/1nB3s )

I guess part of my fixation on "software" is that that seems more and
more irrelevant these days. If you were getting the exact same
behaviors from hardware or service, would it matter that it's software
design? Is software where you want to pigeonhole your design skills?

If there is a useful answer to this question (and, like so many of the
"what are we?" questions that regularly appear on this list, I'm once
again doubtful there is), I think it has to match the specificity of
the question.

Therefore, Marc's answer of "arranging code to perform a function on a
computer" is the best answer I've seen so far, but my sense is that it
wasn't what you were looking for.

Jared

5 Jul 2009 - 6:06am
Anonymous

"And every day we have to use our creativity, smarts and talent to
design the best tools for people to use."

-> No, sorry. The design of the tool is not a software designer's
cocnern.

It seems there is some misconception about software design going on
here. Software design isn't concerned with the interface, but code.

You could define software design as "a planning phase allowing the
creation of efficient and understandable code". It is the phase that
comes after gathering the requirements, so you already know what the
system should do, and before actual implementation; laying out a
framework or plan after which the coding should be executed. It's
really just about analysing planned functionality, creating modules,
decomposing them into functions, deciding upon algorithms, etc; so
that programmers have a shared model of the final code structure
before starting implementation.

...or maybe it's just me who has a wrong idea of the term. But I'm
quite sure I'm right. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=43357

5 Jul 2009 - 5:32pm
msweeny
2006

Seems limiting though..."computer" when software powers a number of systems
that have computer components but are not known by that label, cellular
phones for example. Switch device for computer and I'm sold.

marianne
msweeny at speakeasy.net

-----Original Message-----
From: discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com
[mailto:discuss-bounces at lists.interactiondesigners.com] On Behalf Of Jared
Spool
Sent: Saturday, July 04, 2009 6:43 PM
To: Russell Wilson
Cc: list IXDA
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] In 10 words or less,what is software design to
you?

On Jul 4, 2009, at 4:23 PM, Russell Wilson wrote:

> I currently lead the design of network performance mgt software
> applications at my company. I have also designed countless
> applications in the past that have nothing to do with network perf
> mgt. And I have designed several websites for small businesses.
>
> But what does that have to do with anything??? This has nothing to do
> with the company I work for. And why are you so hung up on the word
> "software"? Do you think what you do is exactly the same as what an
> automotive designer does? Do you think there are any distinctions?
>
> I don't need an elevator pitch nor a cocktail party one-liner
> (although I do like your scenario). I'm really interested in how
> people in our field of design characterize what they do.

I guess I'm hung up on the prototype you proposed in your initial post:

> At the end of a recent interview, the candidate asked me "What is
> software design to you?" I can probably come up with a thousand
> different answers but the one that popped into my mind immediately
> that day was "*software design is making the ordinary extraordinary*."
>
> Okay, so maybe it won't get me a mention in Businessweek, but what I
> was trying to capture and communicate was that software design in
> particular is largely about taking unglamorous tools and making them
> functionally robust and efficient, rewarding to use, and aesthetically
> pleasing.

"...making the ordinary extraordinary" seems very generic to me, whereas
"software design" seems fairly specific. (I hang out, because of my son's
profession, with a lot of magicians and special effects artists these days.
Those guys think they've cornered the market on 'making the ordinary
extraordinary'. And I find it hard to believe that Ferrari's designers don't
think they are 'making the ordinary extraordinary.' Likewise, there ain't
nothing ordinary about this $2.1m Bugatti: http://is.gd/1nB3s )

I guess part of my fixation on "software" is that that seems more and more
irrelevant these days. If you were getting the exact same behaviors from
hardware or service, would it matter that it's software design? Is software
where you want to pigeonhole your design skills?

If there is a useful answer to this question (and, like so many of the "what
are we?" questions that regularly appear on this list, I'm once again
doubtful there is), I think it has to match the specificity of the question.

Therefore, Marc's answer of "arranging code to perform a function on a
computer" is the best answer I've seen so far, but my sense is that it
wasn't what you were looking for.

Jared
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6 Jul 2009 - 1:50pm
Riaz
2006

Actually let's I'd like to make a change now that i see i think about it some more...

'part of a larger story that is often sadly ignored'

Software design is too often seen as an activity done in isolation from the cultural context in which it is conceived. I think the idea that software design is the thoughtful act (design) of an environment that makes easy a certain behavior is a critical piece to communicate to our peers that may not 'get' what we do.

` Riaz
http://www.ahmedriaz.com

8 Jul 2009 - 4:12pm
Jennifer Vignone
2008

making online tools and sites useful and intuitive

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