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33 Responses to “If Engineers were Designers…”
Andy Duncan wrote:

Actually, as funny as this strip is, I once had a manager who mis-micro-mismanaged the DBAs like most managers micro-mismanage the designers.

Actually, he micro-mismanaged the designers too… On second thought this strip isn’t funny at all :-) .

Bob Salmon wrote:

“No, O(n.log(n)) sort algorithms are so web 1.0; give me something more _now_”

“Yes, I know that your travelling salesman solution works, but it doesn’t move me, it doesn’t make me weep”

“We can just ship version 1.0 with empty function definitions. Dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s is for 1.1″

“I don’t care if it doesn’t compile. I like it - so ship it.”

Ron Zeno wrote:

Maybe one day designers will deserve to be treated better.

uurf wrote:

Maybe one day Ron Zeno will deserve to be treated better, as unlikely as that seems.

Ron Zeno wrote:

Going straight for the ad hominem’s certainly won’t earn you any respect.

uurf wrote:

Pot, meet kettle.

Ron Zeno wrote:

And there is my first example of why designers don’t deserve any better. Special thanks to uurf for the help.

Now, does anyone want to demonstrate why designers deserve better, discuss why they aren’t treated better, or why they’re getting what they deserve?

I’ve already written at length on the topic, but am happy to summarize:

I don’t think designers deserve better. The qualified, competent minority do. However, as long as they tolerate (or are simply unaware of) the unqualified, the incompetent, and the prima donnas in their midst, they shouldn’t be surprised at how poorly they are treated.

uurf wrote:

Explain to me how this is any different from any other discipline associated with software development, or for that matter, any other professional discipline? Look how easy this is:

I don’t think engineers deserve better. The qualified, competent minority do. However, as long as they tolerate (or are simply unaware of) the unqualified, the incompetent, and the prima donnas in their midst, they shouldn’t be surprised at how poorly they are treated.


I don’t think the point of the comic was “designers deserve better” - it was “why does the majority of ‘the unqualified, the incompetent, and the prima donna’ engineers, developers, and dbas, many of whom are less talented, experienced, and educated, not receive the same scrutiny designers do”?

If you think not being critiqued on every decision made within a discipline for which you may have invested considerable time, education, and experience constitutes “special treatment”, then the question you should be asking is “why have other disciplines received special treatment for years”?

The answer is simple, btw: while anyone can walk into an art museum and render an opinion, it takes a certain amount of training, experience, and education to render an informed opinion. However, it’s harder for people with little or no computer science background to comment meaningfully about the elegance or efficiency of one’s algorithms. The opaqueness of the computer sciences to the masses renders it unapproachable by the general public. Yet anyone off the street can be asked their opinion with respect to the form of a product.

Exercise for you the reader: compare and contrast the number of times you’ve heard someone (or had to yourself) defend an information architecture, layout, branding integration, usability test experimental design or sample size, a color scheme, or font choice relative to the number of times your engineering colleagues have had to defend in the slightest way their coding decisions to your mutual managers.

I’m not sure what I “helped” you with an example of other than foolishly biting on your troll. Which was, by the way, a perfect example of the ad hominem attack you feign revulsion at above. Sorry if that last post too subtly made that point.

Zeh wrote:

I think uurf nailed it in the head. While it makes no sense for anyone to critic the look of someone’s function as long as it’s performing its task flawlessly, anything that’s regarding the form (and looks) of a product is so subjective that anyone think they can draw an opinion - as if some people believe designers are just glorified opinion makers. There are many aspects of the form that can make or break a product, but most management people don’t/can’t see it so they just try to to fit it to their linkings. Software engineering may /seem/ hard to them because they don’t understand it, but design seems fairly easy because they /think/ they understand it sometimes better than the designers.

Richard wrote:

I’m sure it’s not the point of the ‘toon, but some of the posts here make it clear that designers and developers are more or less as far away from understanding each of their relative rolls as ever. The two creative disciplines (and I do subscribe to the point that developing is as creative as design), will probably be forever separated by the different drivers behind their processes, and until both sides can respect and acknowledge the talents and constraints of each the bickering will continue.

Ron Zeno wrote:

And there’s my second example of why designers don’t deserve any better. At least we have something to think about this time…

uurf has some good questions:
“Explain to me how this is any different from any other discipline associated with software development, or for that matter, any other professional discipline?”

Professional discipline? That’s easy. To be a true professional discipline, it must apply standards of qualification to its members (usually through professional organizations, but often through licensing processes as well). (Exercise: Find out why software engineers cannot legally call themselves “engineers”.)

In software development? It’s messy, because the standards of a professional discipline as described above don’t apply. Since there are no professional bodies defining who is and is not a professional, it’s up to the individuals to assert their qualifications, while the hiring companies must then assess their qualifications.

The problems with self-assessment are many. uurf touches on one of the most important: what happens when everyone feels that they have a valid opinion? Obviously, the real experts are hindered by those who are not experts.

I’m saying that it’s much more difficult than that: assessing “design” is so difficult that no one can agree on who the real experts are (and as a result, few even try).

This isn’t a problem in programming (other than the assessment processes tend to be underprioritized). Programmers can be assessed fairly easily because their code is fairly easy to assess. Few doubt that it takes experts to examine the actual code, but very complicated testing procedures ensure (or at least can ensure) that the final product works as it should.

The assessment process for “design” is broken. Designers will be treated better when it’s fixed.

noah wrote:

Well played, uurf.

noah wrote:

“Deserve” was a very loaded way to say what you meant, RonZero — but I’m glad you cleared it up.

Dave wrote:

Sorry, it took me so long to post a comment here … I needed that time to compose myself and stop crying from laughter! My favorite strip in weeks guys!!!!

Allison wrote:

“I don’t care if it doesn’t compile. I like it - so ship it.” — I can hear that phrase coming…!

Ask marketing…priceless.

Dustin Diaz wrote:

Wow. Quite the discussion. Can’t this just be funny for face value. This is yet another good one for the cube wall.

splatz wrote:

“Ok you’re the expert on this. Still, lets ask marketing for a second opinion”

Priceless! This statment has tickled me for hours!!

icubyx wrote:

“Hey - itunes and gmail have it…its so cool…let’s do it. I’m sure users will like it” - How many of you have heard this from marketing folks?

Joe Pemberton wrote:

Great comic. It hits way too close to home…

Robby Slaughter wrote:

No, the point of the comic is that management is often dumb. Ignoring the expertise your core contributors is not only insulting, it’s harmful to the future of your business.

“Design” expertise is admittedly not as rigorous as say, technical expertise (or scientific expertise), but that’s changing. However, most desginers don’t present their knowledge with *any* degree of rigor, nor in the context of well-established principles. This is why they get so little respect from non-designers.

This is why, incidentally, I hate the word “design”. It’s totally inadequate to describe the field of the user experience.

Moi wrote:

I’m sorry, but what exactly makes you think that engineers /aren’t/ treated like that?

olof wrote:

“Ok you’re the expert on this. Still, lets ask marketing for a second opinion”

Gives me a bad feeling of Deja Vu!

Noah wrote:

To RonZero’s point, the problem have always stemmed from those few designers who confuse “Design” with “Art.”

This makes me this of the fashion world, actually — designers regularly make clothes that are bizarre, outrageous and audacious. This is strictly the designer’s art that aims to build the label’s publicity, branding and mystique. These pieces get the most coverage, but are never mass-produced.

The clothes that get mass-produced are the ones that are designed: they must work with other pieces, they must fit into a particular price range, they must have certain popular affects. There’s art involved, sure, but there are also business objectives that can ultimately measure the effort as being successful or not.

Prima donnas hate that.

Mike wrote:

I’m surprised at how someone so evidently self-important and overopinionated as Ron Zero is happy to put complete faith in external assessment procedures. As if somehow passing an MVP course is intrinsic proof of being ‘any good’.

I’d argue this isn’t necessarily the case, just as with the Prince2-certified Project Managers I’ve worked with who couldn’t PM for toffee. As much as we might kid ourselves that development (or design for that matter) is an academic discipline, nothing beats on the job experience.

I think RZ also presupposes that ‘design’ is entirely subjective. It’s not, at least when performed in a commercial sense, and particularly when performed as a component of product design. As Noah says, Design isn’t Art. There are many rules that govern classic layout structure, and (since we’re on a usability blog) many accepted conventions so widely established that they might as well be rules. Admittedly, like many rules these are made to be bent, or even broken on occassion, but that isn’t to say they’re not there.

I must agree the commercial design industry is awash with incompetents - art school graduates who sacrifice everything to their idea of pop-culture aesthetic - which might not be quite so galling if it was original, and not plagiarised from last month’s Creative Review or Japanese import magazines - and who wouldn’t know a usable product if they spilled their frappucino over it.

However, when it comes to managing designers versus engineers, I think the real problem comes from competence, not incompetence. From my experience, a competent creative is someone who understands the brief, asks the right questions, and devises a solution achievable within the timeframe and budget. By contrast, almost all the competent engineers I’ve managed have insufferable god-complexes; thinking they know better than the brief, not asking any questions, and going hell-for-leather to develop a Rolls-Royce architecture, despite the client only having a Skoda budget.

Then I guess we have a debate over whether ‘competence’ is / should be limited to expertise of a specialist skillset, or should be extended to the ability to be flexible enough to apply that skillset to real-world parameters. My litmus-test for both designers and developers is the latter.

Ron Zeno wrote:

Mike - How about telling us what you think, rather than assuming what I do? I don’t appreciate the insults either.

What I’m saying is as long as designers forego self-assessment, they are opening their arms to incompetence and fraud. Further, the lack of self-assessment causes more external scrutiny, deservingly so.

Of course, I also think “designers” is a granfalloon ( More importantly, I think much of design work is so hard to assess that it shields practitioners from being aware of their own competence or lack of (

Mike wrote:

RZ - It was inappropriate to call you self-important. I still think you’re opinionated (though ‘over-’ may be a tautology) as evidenced by your original post.

That aside, what do I think? I think that ‘designers’, be they practitioners of graphic design, product design, arcitectural design, whatever - share a common, rule-based discipline - just as surely as plumbers, carpenters or airline pilots follow their own disciplines.

How designers can therefore be a granfalloon is beyond me. You seem to imply that it’s because there’s no recognised professional body for designers. That’s not always true - here in the UK we have RIBA for architects, and even one of the engineering bodies is extending its reach to web practitioners. But to my original post, what does this matter? How does paying dues to a club, or even passing an exam, guarantee on-the-job competency?

Perhaps you come from an environment where designers don’t realise the full extent of their responsibility. It should be about communication, and in the case of web design, about (small ‘u’) usability and (small ‘a’) accessibility. Transparency of ideas. Now of course, as I’ve said there are plenty of designers who ignore much of this in favour of aesthetic-indulgence-of-the-month, and if that’s your beef with ‘designers’ then I’m with you all the way.

But we creatives don’t work in a vacuum. Of course there is assessment! At many stages of the process. Whether that be client feedback, peer review (and by peers I include technical developers, along with IAs, PMs and the like), or indeed the final proof of the pudding; whether the product is successful. Whether it answers its objectives, whether it’s fit for purpose in the eyes of its audience.

Experience in commercial design should teach a designer right from wrong in these regards, and keep them on the rails during the creative process in regard to fulfilling a brief competently. If that’s not self-assessment, I’m not sure what you’re getting at.

So in my view, there is plenty of external assessment levelled at design (which I think was the point of the original comic, wasn’t it?) and through iterations of that assessment comes a form of self-assessment. Experience, I guess you’d call it.

If perhaps you feel that those involved in the external assessment (management, users etc.) aren’t qualified to give an opinion, then isn’t it with those people that the problem lies?

Ron Zeno wrote:

Mike - Got any specifics? Being somewhat of an expert on design rules myself, I’m unaware of any rules that are common within design fields, much less across them. What rules exist are not well-known, many are baseless, some outright wrong. Designers certainly like to assert there are such rules, they just can’t agree on them. Designers certainly like to point to real professionals (like you do with architects) and say “We’re just like them”.

Of course, without common rules, assessment is difficult. Saying “We’re just like them” isn’t a solution (it’s fraud, actually).

Nice of you to admit that some designers ignore the rules. (Is it 90% or more? I wonder…) How do you then tell the difference between someone ignoring the rules and someone that doesn’t know them at all? Again, it’s a matter of assessment.

Exercise: What’s the difference between an architect and all the other design practitioners you mention? (Hint: See previous exercise).

Matt wrote:

Paul Graham has written a brilliant article on the ‘design is subjective–no it isn’t!’ subject. I highly recommend it for both designers looking for respect and engineers (or others) that may have given in to equating design with subjective whimsy.

Tigdh wrote:

Please forgive my over-indulgent, under-qualified, little brain for even daring to ask this this question, but who is this Ron Zeno anyway.

I’m a nobody, and happy to be nobody, as I have no real intelligences that compare to Mr Zeno and his obviously talented mind. I’ve read his blog you see, and while I could pretend I understood what he said, I’d be lying, ‘cos I’m a creative, and that means I’m unable to assess anything he said. My puir wee heid is wont to crumble under the weight of his steaming intellect, at least I think that’s what the steaming pile was…

Oh, I get it now…

Ron Zeno wrote:


Obviously, you’re no comedian.

I’m someone who actually cares about design as a profession. I don’t think we accomplish anything good by allowing fraud, deceipt, and/or ignorance in the promotion and growth of design professions.

Can you do anything besides whine and spout ad hominems?

Draxar wrote:

One of the reasons why there aren’t universal qualifications for design is because they wouldn’t be of use to the designers or the people hiring them - qualifications for designers ranks very much secondary to portfolios. It’s seeing what you can do, and what your style of doing it is that is what gets or loses you the job.

I’m currently studying Graphic Design at university, and the head of the subject has said that if they could award all their degrees as just pass or fail (rather than 1st, 2:1, 2:2, etc) then they would, because they find the having to put exact marks to things a false way to do it.

Garzi Rodriguez wrote:

Who is Ron Zeno and what qualifications does he have to make such rude assessments?

Beverneky Kemény Farkas wrote:

Designers are artsy-fartsy faggots. They get what they reserve.

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?