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Best (or Maybe Worst) Software Analogy Ever

Posted by Alan on December 22, 2008

OK, here is the deal.  This post could be one of the most insightful commentaries I have ever made and it could go down in the history books as being truly brilliant.  Or it could be a complete and utter pile of steaming garbage and a waste of everyone’s time.   Continue reading at your own risk.

So last week, the family took a week long trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.  We stayed at a brand new (open for 2 weeks) all inclusive resort.   Now whoever designed this place decided to go completely trendy and stylish with the bathroom (i.e., toilet) area.  It had all straight lines with steel and glass — very contemporary.  You walk into the room and when you first see the bathroom area you think “wow that looks really cool”.   You could say that it had all the bells and whistles you would expect from a 5 star resort.

To help illustrate my point, here is a photo of the actual bathroom area.  The toilet is on the left with the door closed, and the shower is on the right with the door open:

Software Design Bathroom 01

So you open the door to the toilet area and what do you see?   Well look for yourself.  Here is what you see with the toilet door open: 

Software Design Bathroom 02

Now what have we got?  You have a telephone, toilet paper holders and a toilet.  All pretty standard stuff.  The designers of this bathroom decided to continue the concept of contemporary and trendy and straight lines all the way down to the toilet.  In case you can’t see it very well here is a close-up of the toilet:

Software Design Bathroom 03


In life there are many natural pairings.  Whether it is beer and pizza, warm chocolate chip cookies and cold milk, 60″ LCD HD televisions and the Superbowl, or Jessica Alba and dirty thoughts, there are just some things that naturally go together.  There are also things out there that just don’t go together, such as airport security and bomb jokes, real men and drinks with umbrellas, or Apple Mac users and technical skills.   

So back to the toilet.  At first glance you think “Hey a square toilet, that looks very cool”.   And it is cool until you try to use it for the first time.   It is at that point you realize that while the toilet is square, your backside is round!  This is not just an unnatural pairing, it is an uncomfortable pairing as well.  Plus, you spend all your time just trying not to fall in, you needed a step ladder to climb on to the thing as it was placed really high and you spend a lot of time wondering just who in their right mind would use a phone while on the can.  This is a perfect example where the designers of this bathroom only considered form and totally ignored function.  

So what does a square toilet have to do with software?  Quite a bit actually.   Ignore the obvious analogy between most software and toilet functions.  The designers of this bathroom put form way ahead function.  I see the same with a lot of software development.  Designers spend a lot of time creating funky nouveau interfaces [think: square toilet bowl], forgetting the profile of the user [think: bowl way too high] and adding useless bells and whistles [think: telephone] rather than focusing on what is important — users getting their work done quickly, efficiently, comfortably and with a minimum of mess. 

If more developers were forced to use a square toilet once in a while, we would all enjoy software a lot more!


3 Responses to “Best (or Maybe Worst) Software Analogy Ever”

  1. rm said

    Really enjoyed reading this post and it makes perfect sense. Substance over form, is one thing which needs more attention . However the commercial applicabilty is questionable. Think of sales of linix based apps v/s windows apps.

  2. Den said

    Great, thanks. Have you tried using SQLServer Studio 2008? Intellisense drives me crazy! Is is possible to disable it?

    Thanks, Den.

  3. AR said

    Hi went to the same resort. When I first layed eyes on it I thought this is strange, but I got use to it and I am looking to purchase one my my new bathroom project.

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