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The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  2,599 ratings  ·  184 reviews
In this book about the darker side of technology's impact on our lives, Alan Cooper begins by explaining that unlike other devices throughout history, computers have a "meta function": an unwanted, unforeseen option that users may accidentally invoke with what they thought was a normal keystroke. Cooper details many of these meta functions to explain his central thesis: pr ...more
Paperback, 255 pages
Published February 24th 2004 by Sams Publishing (first published March 23rd 1999)
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Jun 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As a software developer, this book's thesis -- that software should be designed before it's written, by people other than the people writing it -- was a revelation. It's such an obvious observation in hindsight that you might be surprised to learn that software development isn't done this way. It's not, and it's because the inmates (software developers) are allowed to drive the product development process. Cooper makes an impassioned plea to the business world to bring software development under ...more
Liz Licata
Jun 26, 2013 rated it it was ok
Inmates is all about design. Bad design is rife in the computer technology arena according to Cooper. That’s true, especially when the book was published in 2004 (for those who don’t realize, this is before the iPhone, the Kindle, YouTube, and Gmail. Everyone was on Windows XP, and iTunes was one year old). Cooper hates bad computer design. I mean REALLY HATES bad computer design. He has so much nerdrage against programmers that he calls them at various points in the book “sadistic”, “unreasonab ...more
Vladimir Rybalko
Nov 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: business
It is not bad book. Many parts are really useful for all programmers. But I think that some parts is unnecessary. The author said CEO and Senior managers can resolve all programming problems. It is a good idea, although may be I think that because I am a developer.

Developers like their work, but unfortunately they can not design any UI. I am sure it is true. Alan provided many efficient tools for creating very qualitative software prototypes. Say more.. The author described a new software develo
Oct 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: technical
This is THE thing that essentially put me on the career path I am on now. Well written, has some funny points, but you don't need a degree in engineering or computer science to understand it. In fact if you want an explanation as to why computers and software can irritate anyone, here is the answer.
Dec 03, 2008 rated it liked it
If this is meant to be the business case for interaction design, it's a pretty sad business case. The ideas are good, but they way it's put is frustrating.

There's some useful material in this book, but it's hard to dig out in the constant noise of Mr Cooper's whining. You could easily scan the first 120 pages, then read about half of the chapters on persona and goals, and you'd have it.

I am left with the taste of BUFD in my mouth too. That may be a misunderstanding, but it seems that we need to
Yevgeniy Brikman
Apr 12, 2014 rated it liked it
I found this book frustrating. It's has a number of great design insights, but they are mixed with some truly awful advice on what programmers are like and how to build software, that I would hesitate to recommend it to any "business" person (the audience identified in the preface), as the advice in this book may cause more problems than it solves.


* Good discussion of how programming is not like manufacturing or building physical goods.
* Love the ideas behind where software design goes wron
Chris Branch
Dec 22, 2011 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
I wasn’t writing Goodreads reviews back in 2008 when I read this, but I found an email I wrote to a colleague at the time, and I think it qualifies as a review, so I’ll post it here now for the record.

Note that this was years before I went on to get a masters degree in HCI, and yes, I realize the book is recognized as a classic of UX design. My opinion may come across as a bit harsh, but I’ll largely stand by it, with the possible exception of my criticism of personas.


Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
Although Alan Cooper’s 1998 book The Inmates are Running the Asylum is now aging, it is still a helpful read for anyone in the software industry that doesn’t accept the importance of interaction design to software. Even if you are someone who does accept ID’s value, if you don’t believe it should happen before implementation begins, and with a separate team of professionals than your developers, then you frankly need to read it. There is no longer any question about the validity of Cooper’s argu ...more
Marcia Johnston
Sep 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
A classic on user-centered design, especially as it relates to computerized products (that is, most products). Cooper meanders at times, and he spends longer than is now needed to build the business case for moving interaction design out of the hands of programmers. But he's spirited and instructive and (mostly) as relevant as ever.

Now that I'm expand my consulting business into user experience and product development, I got a lot from this book. I look forward to using the tools described in i
Dave Emmett
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Read this for the June meeting of the Vancouver User Experience Book Club.

This was one of those "I can't believe it took me so long to read this" type books. I was already well on-board the user-centered design train, but this gave me some new tools to think about and describe the value of UX.

I especially liked the section on Homo Logicus, which I have now been observing everywhere. I definitely have a component of that in myself, so having the concept is a good way to check my own thinking agai
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: computers
- old economy: engineer designs a product (bridge), workers are doing construction. new economy: software engineer does both design and construction
- cognitive friction: problems arise from the constantly changing system
- apologists (wow, dancing bear) vs survivors (dancing is hard for the bear, this is the best I can get)
- triangle of capability (engineering), viability (business), desirability (design)
- designing with personas
- task oriented (programmers) vs goal oriented (designers)
- status b
Su Yin
Mar 03, 2014 rated it it was ok
A really sexist and insulting quote by Tom Corddry killed an otherwise good book for me: "Designers are invariably female, are talkative, live in lofts, have vegetarian diets , and wear found objects in their hair. Developers are invariably male, eat fast food, ands onto talk except to say, 'Not true'."

Killed it dead.
Rejeev Divakaran
Aug 22, 2009 rated it did not like it
No central theme. No focus. Discussions are more religious and with prejudice than with any substance.
Jul 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
In The Inmates are Running the Asylum, computer programmer Alan Cooper argues that, in contemporary software development, there has been a lack of attention paid to creating a user-friendly end product. Specifically, he suggests that programmers, who have majority (if not exclusive) control of the finished merchandise, have different objectives than the users for whom the product is meant: programmers care about how the computer "computes" and tend to ignore the ease with which the user can inte ...more
Jesse Rosalia
Feb 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Seminal work on interaction design in software; must read if you're in the business of designing software applications for users. I find myself now recognizing (and getting angry with) the pitfalls Cooper railed against in the book, both in my work and in the products with which I interact, which speaks to the impact of the book. ...more
May 17, 2007 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Designers, Programmers, Managers
Shelves: work-related
The first 2/3's of the book basically detail cautionary tales about products that didn't have sufficient design, or else they make the author's case that design is neglected. These would make great arguments if you had to sell an idea to a manager or development team (or if you felt insecure and needed a hug).

The last third provides some great insight into design practices. I found his suggestions very practical. I wish this section was longer than the first two.

As a software developer at a smal
Aug 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ux
I enjoyed this book a great deal. It has a wonderful mix of humor, information and just good book structure. It is a must read for everyone that is, works with programmers, or uses the final products of programmers. Essentially, anyone who could be reading this review.

Where some UI authors drone on about why everything is bad and they're so smart but give little proof of that, Cooper makes you laugh at what is wrong and then offers multiple solutions to the problems. It's entertaining and refres
Jul 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is a kind of parallel volume to Donald A Norman's "Design of Everyday Things".

As a confirmed klutz in life, these two authors are my heroes. Sometimes it's helpful to be reassured that it's not always just me, that things appear to me to be appallingly designed because they are, in fact, appallingly designed. By lazy, uncaring "design professionals".

This book concentrates more on issues and products related to computing (Bill Gates: are you listening? are you even capable of listening?).

A r
Nikita Pchelin
Nov 04, 2013 rated it liked it
I think this book should be read by people who are in the business of software engineering:

- it presents an interesting point of view on the interaction design and designing with user in mind;
- it highlights many parts of the current process that are broken;
- it makes a lot of stereotypical and cynical statements about programmers, and many of those are unfortunately, correct - people should be aware of them.

On the negative side:
- the author makes many claims that don't seem to include sufficien
Craig Cecil
Feb 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: computers
Every once in a while you'll read a book or part of a book that completely shifts your thinking. This is one of those books. Alan Cooper (father of Visual Basic) presents for us a litany of horrific examples of interface design, and lays out the case for why spending time and money up front on usability and interaction design will produce the greatest returns of all the steps in software development. But the paradigm shift occurs in Chapters 9 and 10, "Designing for Pleasure", "Designing for Pow ...more
Ryan Martinsen
Apr 23, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: programming
09/17/2012: The author's incessant whining makes this book hard to read at a pace faster than half a page a week. I wish it was a terrible book so I could stop reading it.

Finished 04/08/2013:
Thanks to the author and others like him, the world of software development has come along way since this was written. It's not where it needs to be, but it's better.

So if you can slog through the long-winded, condescending arrogance that is this book you'll find a lot of really compelling arguments for why
Matt Swaffer
Nov 29, 2012 rated it it was ok
Alan Cooper is a recognized name in human computer interaction. This book represents some of his initial work from the 90's which at the time represented very provocative thinking. With the influence of Apple on software design along with the massive effort being put out by Microsoft, some of the ideas Cooper rants and raves about in this book seem almost quaint. Unfortunately in my opinion, Cooper set a tone for user interface designers of condescension and mockery. For some reason UI designers ...more
Carl Klutzke
May 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
This is the book that introduced me to interaction design, and helped me realize that this is what I wanted to do instead of programming. I recommend it because more programmers and their managers need to understand that, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are doing design work, and even if they have the best intentions, it's not their area of expertise. ...more
Andrej Voropaj
It's book Must read for UI experts and IT mangers. Especially for junior UX.
There is a little bit information about prototyping method. The aim of this book is converting of your mind in sphere of creating apps and web sites.
Nov 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
An excellent product management and interaction design primer. The author takes his own advice in writing that “software should be confident” and exhibit the “principle of commensurate effort”. Some of his examples are dated but the principles are timeless.
Feb 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great overview of business need for user centered design. Must read for any UX practitioner! Cooper knows what he's talking about. ...more
Caleb Begly
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: UI Designers, Programmers, Engineers
Recommended to Caleb by: It was mentioned by a lecturer at Colorado State University who was talking about developing user personas
This book is an interesting glimpse into development history. It was written right when people were starting to see the issues with the waterfall development methodology, but before the current agile methodologies (eg. Scrum, Extreme Programming, Test Driven Development, Feature Driven Development) were well established. It proposes a new methodology called interaction design where interaction specialists develop models (personas) for each expected type of user, and then design decisions are mad ...more
Aparna Ashok
Mar 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: design, technology
As a design anthropologist, this book was helpful in illustrating how consumer needs should and can be integrated into the tech development process. This book provides valuable insights into the psychology behind software programming and marketing while demonstrating the value proposition of design/interaction design through various examples. While written more than a decade ago, these principles still stand true and are arguably even more relevant in the face of current emerging technologies.

Tushar Tyagi
Feb 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018, technical
Great book, especially the first part which told how things are really in tech industry. It's surprising that there has not been much of a change with respect to project planning, execution and deliverables.* The majority of time a tech job indeed looks like what's described in the book, with planning coming after the execution, and an overall lack of design which hampers the end product.
The way developers feel (and I mean it in the worst way possible) is also a reality, and though I'm not prou
May 27, 2019 rated it did not like it
Finally, finished this long winding complaint of a self-righteous man. I had picked this up to learn something new about interaction design. I only understood that interaction designers are like a surgeon and one can not really fathom how they come up so great designs with a single tool of persona.

Personas are good and that is the only value add of this book. That tidbit of information lasts about five pages. Everything else is an aggressive effort at convincing how every other job role just doe
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Central Iowa UX B...: The Inmates are Running the Asylum (Cooper) 2 9 Sep 05, 2013 11:04AM  

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“In all other construction disciplines, engineers plan a construction strategy that craftmen execute. Engineers don't build bridges; ironworkers do. Only in software is the engineer tasked with actually building the product. Only in software is the "ironworker" tasked with determining how the product will be constructed.” 3 likes
“Sort of like the pilot saying, "We're gonna make Chicago on time, but only if we jettison all our baggage!" I've seen product managers sacrifice not only design, but testing, function, features, integration, documentation, and reality. Most product managers that I have worked with would rather ship a failure on time than risk going late.” 2 likes
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