The Limits of Good Design in Software Production (or Dreamweaver CS4 still sucks)

My first job was as an hourly doing LAMP development for my undergrad university. I remember very clearly my fellow developers complaining about how our users were idiots. When things went wrong, the normal course of action was to blame the user.

Fast forward four years and now I’m on the cusp of holding a masters in HCI/d. We are trained to never blame the user. Even when the user is doing something grievously unintended with the digital artifact, it’s “emergent behavior” – and if even that user is getting frustrated, we blame the design. HCI/d is a humble discipline, always ready to take responsibility.

Having been now on both sides of the spectrum – from the blame-the-user developer to the blame-the-design – I would like to propose a new group of people to blame our digital troubles on: developers. Yes, those hapless geeks who just do what their told when given design specs. 

But, why would I be so mean?

Well, let’s looks at the latest version of Dreamweaver, CS4. Below is an animated GIF detailing the troubles I’ve been having with it this morning.


So I will be in a web browser window (not uncommon for someone working with Dreamweaver) and use expose to get over to Dreamweaver. In the first frame you can clearly see that Twitter is still showing through where the Dreamweaver tab menu should be.

So, I click again, and still no dice. The tab menu does appear, along with two(!) menu bars, but my code disappears. I guess you’re paying extra for the second menu bar considering how expensive CS4 is.

And, finally, on the third(!) click I get what I actually want. Now repeat this a thousand times, and that’s how annoying it is.

But who can we blame? Maybe it is my fault for using Dreamweaver,  but Adobe certainly wants a user base, so we can’t generalize that to the blaming the user.

It’s not the fault of the designers. The tab navigation and tool bar there aren’t great works of revolutionary design, but they’re not bad. I understand them easily enough and they do what they look like their going to do.

So, in this case the only person really left to blame is the developer. Adobe charges enough for their products that you’d think they’d be able to hire some decent code writers, but apparently not.

The larger point I want to make is that while UX is  great buzzword right now – and one I’m happy about, considering I’m in HCI/d – designers can only do so much. Developers actually have to follow through well on any design, or else the whole experience with that digital artifact will continue to suck, just like with Dreamweaver CS4.


One response to “The Limits of Good Design in Software Production (or Dreamweaver CS4 still sucks)

  1. Your thoughts are absolutely true. For good UX to happen, you need good developers, who are competent, creative, and most importantly, attentive to the details of the design… You also need good QA people to double check that everything turns out as spec’d. In design school, I got used to thinking of myself as solely accountable for the UX. Its strange to realize how many other people there are to mess things up 🙂

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