The Inmates are Running the Asylum

Alan Cooper, Cooper Interaction Design

Seminar on People, Computers, and Design
Stanford University February 13, 1998


Are you an inmate? What if we switched the metaphor to, "the building contractors are telling the architects where to put the windows?" Strike a little closer to home?

The mechanics of building an application often end up taking precedence over the aims of the project, to the point where nobody--user, designer, programmer or manager--ends up getting what they want. Alan Cooper, the "Father of Visual Basic" and author of About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design, sees a cure for this craziness in a new way to design interaction. His Goal-Directed ® Design process creates applications that provide power and pleasure to the people who use them. 

This presentation will provide perspective on design issues and include a case study of how a leading vendor has adopted Cooper's approach. Come prepared to toss out some old ideas, hear some new ones and perhaps even escape from the asylum.


Alan Cooper believes that software should deliver power and pleasure to its users, but rarely does either. He is the author of the influential book About Face: The Essentials of User Interface Design (IDG Books). Alan and his Palo Alto based consulting firm, Cooper Interaction Design, have created breakthrough interactive product designs for IBM, Sony, Logitech, and several internet/intranet start-ups.

For twenty years Alan has designed and developed consumer software products including SuperProject, published by Computer Associates; MicroPhone II for Windows, published by Software Ventures; and the visual programming user interface for Visual Basic, published by Microsoft. In 1976 Cooper founded Structured Systems Group, Inc.-a company that Freiberger and Swaine in Fire in the Valley said produced "perhaps the first serious business software for a microcomputer." Bill Gates gave Cooper a Windows Pioneer Award at Windows World in 1994 which recognized how Alan's part in the invention of Visual Basic contributed to the success of Microsoft Windows.

Alan is a member of the Corporate Design Foundation and the American Center for Design. He is a former director of the Association for Software Design's Silicon Valley Chapter and a member of the national organization's Board of Directors. Alan serves on the advisory board of the Software Forum and was the founder of SEF's Windows SIG, the largest Windows developers group in the world. He is a frequent, opinionated and engaging industry speaker and writer on the topics of user interface and conceptual software design.


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