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Foreword to the Original Edition

Foreword to the Original Edition

The Business-Case Book

I intended to write a very different book from this one: a how-to book about the interaction-design process. Instead, in May 1997 on a family visit to Tuscany, my friends Don McKinney and Dave Carlick talked me into this one. They convinced me that I needed to address a business audience first.

They knew I wanted to write a how-to design book, and—although they were encouraging—they expressed their doubts about the need for interaction design, and they wanted me to write a book to convince them of its value. Their argument was intriguing, but I was unsure that I could write the book they wanted.

Late one night on the veranda of our shared ochre villa overlooking Firenze, I was having an earnest conversation with Dave and Don. Several empty bottles of Chianti stood on the table, along with the remains of some bread, cheese, and olives. The stars shone brightly, the fireflies danced over the lawn, and the lights on the ancient domes of the Tuscan capital twinkled in the distance. Once again, Dave suggested that I postpone the idea of a how-to book on design and instead “make the business case for interaction design.”

I protested vigorously, “But Dave, I don't know how to write that book.” I ticked off the reasons on my fingertips. “It means that I'd have to explain things like how the current development process is messed up, how companies waste money on inefficient software construction, how unsatisfied customers are fickle, and how a better design process can solve that.”

Dave interrupted me to say simply, “They're called chapters, Alan.”

His remark stopped me dead in my tracks. I realized that I was reciting an old script, and that Dave was right. A book that made “the business case” was necessary—and more timely—than a book that explained “how to.” And both Dave and Don convinced me that I really could write such a book.

Business-Savvy Technologist/Technology-Savvy Businessperson

The successful professional for the twenty-first century is either a business-savvy technologist or a technology-savvy businessperson, and I am writing for this person.

The technology-savvy businessperson knows that his success is dependent on the quality of the information available to him and the sophistication with which he uses it. The business-savvy technologist, on the other hand, is an entrepreneurial engineer or scientist trained for technology, but possessing a keen business sense and an awareness of the power of information. Both of these new archetypes are coming to dominate contemporary business.

You can divide all businesspeople into two categories: those who will master high technology and those who will soon be going out of business. No longer can an executive delegate information processing to specialists. Business is information processing. You differentiate yourself today with the quality of your information-handling systems, not your manufacturing systems. If you manufacture anything, chances are it has a microchip in it. If you offer a service, odds are that you offer it with computerized tools. Attempting to identify businesses that depend on high technology is as futile as trying to identify businesses that depend on the telephone. The high-tech revolution has invaded every business, and digital information is the beating heart of your workday.

It's been said, “To err is human; to really screw up, you need a computer.” Inefficient mechanical systems can waste a couple of cents on every widget you build, but you can lose your entire company to bad information processes. The leverage that software-based products—and the engineers that build them—have on your company is enormous.

Sadly, our digital tools are extremely hard to learn, use, and understand, and they often cause us to fall short of our goals. This wastes money, time, and opportunity. As a business-savvy technologist/technology-savvy businessperson, you produce software-based products or consume them—probably both. Having better, easier-to-learn, easier-to-use high-tech products is in your personal and professional best interest. Better products don't take longer to create, nor do they cost more to build. The irony is that they don't have to be difficult, but are so only because our process for making them is old-fashioned and needs fixing. Only long-standing traditions rooted in misconceptions keep us from having better products today. This book will show you how you can demand—and get—the better products that you deserve.

The point of this book is uncomplicated: We can create powerful and pleasurable software-based products by the simple expedient of designing our computer-based products before we build them. Contrary to the popular belief, we are not already doing so. Designing interactive, software-based products is a specialty as demanding as constructing them.

Having made my choice to write the business-case book rather than the how-to design book, I beg forgiveness from any interaction designers reading this book. In deference to the business audience, it has only the briefest treatment of the actual nuts and bolts of interaction-design methodology (found primarily in Part IV, “Interaction Design Is Good Business”). I included only enough to show that such methodology exists, that it is applicable to any subject matter, and that its benefits are readily apparent to anyone, regardless of their technical expertise.

Alan Cooper
Palo Alto, California

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