Colorful magician

There Is No Magic Here

By Jeff LeBlanc

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke

As technologists, we are privileged to be working in a time of magic, or at least working with technology that would have seemed magical to our grandparents. Many of us have more computing power in our pockets than was used to put men on the moon.  Even Hollywood is finding it hard to come up with technology to show in movies that is much beyond what we use and envision daily.  With the Amazon Echo coming out, my hope of having my own personal J.A.R.V.I.S. running my house is getting closer every day.

But, putting my engineer hat back on for a moment, we have to remember that creating these technological miracles doesn’t happen overnight. Most software projects involve many people with varied skills working together for months to get from proof-of-concept to prototype to product.  It’s not an easy journey. As I’ve mentioned in some of my webinars, software projects are just as likely to completely fail as they are to arrive at a product launch, let alone launch on time.

Products fail or are delayed for many reasons. A lot of times, it’s during the “construction” phase.  Whether you’re putting up a skyscraper or writing a mobile app, the construction process just takes time, and usually more than we think it does.  In the software world, time overruns can happen because something in the underlying operating system doesn’t work as you expect, or a third-party library has a bug, or something is just plain harder to implement than was first thought, or any of a hundred other reasons.

You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.” – Miracle Max, The Princess Bride, 1987

As I’ve said in earlier blogs, UX design has a lot of similarities to software development. Unfortunately, schedule slippage is one of them.  Design problems sometimes are just harder than were originally estimated; that’s simply the nature of the business. I read an interesting blog recently (When a Design Does Not Hold Up in Actual Usage), talking about how UX design is still considered “magic pixie dust” by some. We worked with one client who, when told it would take our team several days to get a set of wireframes done for a particular application, countered by noting how a guy in marketing (not a designer) cranked out most of what they expected the night before. So, why was it taking so long for us?  Well, as Miracle Max noted, sometimes if you work quickly you don’t get the quality of the results that are expected.

Design is problem solving. While UX designers use different tools and jargon than software developers, the desire for quality work and feeling of professional pride is the same across the board.  Hard problems take hard work to solve, and that takes time, sometimes more than we want to spend.  The question is then, do we accept the rotten miracle, or take the time to do it right?  

I favor the latter.



1. UX Matters web page,, last accessed August 21, 2015