UX vs. Agile 21:42 on Thursday

Bumped on this bit in a discussion thread about user experience practices and agile processes:

Do architects design the buildings while the bricklayers are laying bricks? Would you fly in an airplane that was designed as it was built? Of course not. So why should complex systems be any different? Larry Marine

I’ll start with the second most important reason: It should be different because the user interfaces and web apps we’re mostly talking about in conjunction with user experience are evolving, dynamic things. The basic functionality of a modern airplane was designed tens of years ago, for buildings you can add a couple of zeros to that number. Even the modern details of an airplane were probably designed, and specifications locked years before starting constructing planes for clients.

What about a social networking site then? The “must have” functional details are changing every week, and you can’t really talk about an agreed framework of basic functionality.

Let’s take a car for another example. A car model is first designed, then built hundreds of thousands of times. This doesn’t mean the first prototypes of the car were not built while it was designed. And redesigned while it was built.

The beauty and curse of building “live” software is that you only build one copy. You design and then build. But you also build and then design more. It has versions and iterations, but unlike mass produced things like cars or airplanes, there’s (usually) only one product in use. If requirements change, you don’t start a new design process which ends with a locked spec, then start a new manufacturing process. No, you change the product live. And that’s why agile works for software design, but not necessarily for buildings and airplanes.

The first most important reason is, that in the heat of developing a cool new web app, it is often forgotten that unlike with an airplane, a mishap in the design doesn’t kill anyone. In fact, even the worst possible outcome of neglect is often insignificant, considering life at large.

2 Responses to “UX vs. Agile”


  1. samin Says:

    One point tho – as far I’ve understood architechts do make huge amounts of calculations and modelling tests to prove the feasibilty of their work. So in a way they DO follow agile-ish methods, not just with bricklayers.

  2. Niko Says:

    I guess the agile in this discussion refers to developing in sprints that include design and development. I would call architects’ work quite strictly waterfall: you design first and lock the spec (how it looks, what are the structures, calculations, etc), the development starts then. Every part of design and development includes iterations, but I wouldn’t call all iteration “agile”.