Illusion of agreement Ryan 18 Apr 2006

36 comments Latest by Scott M

Last week I talked to some design students about our work and our process. Here’s a slide about the illusion of agreement that occurs when people agree over bullet points instead of sketches and screens.

Illusion of agreement slide

36 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Allen Hadden 18 Apr 06

This is very similar to a picture in Steve McConnell’s Rapid Development (Chapter 8: Estimation). In that picture, there’s a building contractor with a vision of a plain house. A potential homebuyer is envisioning something quite different…a palace. The contractor is saying “a whole year to build a house here? No problem.” The homebuyer is saying “Good. Let’s get started. I’m in a hurry.”

Geez, I’ve never seen that situation before.

bw 18 Apr 06

reminds me a bit of this thing we were shown as part of a TQM lecture. Yours is simpler though, as you’d expect.

bw (p.s.) 18 Apr 06

i think the last image in the series says it all.

John 18 Apr 06

Funny I was just thinking this same thing the other day. I was going to create a process for new clients, and wanted to illustrate the whole thing. Cool deal!

Fri�rik M�r 18 Apr 06

Oh so true.

Haha - seems Flickr was pretty ticked off by the hotlinking, bothered to send a personal message.

Drew Pickard 18 Apr 06

One guy is thinking about a house

the other, a waffle tower with an olive on a toothpick on top of it?

RS 18 Apr 06

a waffle tower with an olive on a toothpick on top of it?

These modernists, I’ll tell ya…

Dave P 18 Apr 06

a waffle tower with an olive on a toothpick on top of it?

These modernists, I�ll tell ya�

modernists? I thought he was the client.

RS 18 Apr 06

modernists? I thought he was the client.


Geoff 18 Apr 06

Someone commented today on a useful business practice at Caribou Coffee. Everyone talked about good service, but everyone had a different idea about what it meant. To solve the problem, Caribou took video footage of exemplary service and distributed it to all their baristas. A video version of sketches and screen shots.

Tim 18 Apr 06

bw, or anyone, where is that image of the swing from? I like it.

Don Wilson 18 Apr 06

Tim, after numerous dead ends, here’s where I think the cartoon originated.

If anyone knows if this is definite or not, please tell.

Don Wilson 18 Apr 06

Naturally right after I post this I find a digg article of people suggesting that this carton is well over 30-35 years old.

Oh well.

George 18 Apr 06

I’m not sure what’s more interesting, the image/photo or the fact that 37signals is now teaching design to students

Anonymous 19 Apr 06

Call me crazy, but isn’t this just the sort of thing that those naughty functional specs were created to avoid?

Daniel 19 Apr 06

Anonymous: Yes, that’s right. But I think the point is that words aren’t as good as sketches when it comes to describe how something should look or “feel”.

Try it for yourself. Describe your own house for someone who haven’t seen it. Doing it in bullet points is a tedious work, and you still won’t know what shape the building is taking in your listeners head. With sketches, it is much easier to comprehend.

qwerty 19 Apr 06

Not everything can be captured in a sketch. Try to sketch an encryption algorithm or an airbag controller without resorting to math. I do understand that 37s is not in the business of building crypto algorithms but I think it’s fair to admit that your methodology does not work for everything.

Des 19 Apr 06

Yeah qwerty, these guys never admit that!

(Thats sarcasm, at this stage I reckon there is a backpack page somewhere that is just a list of sentences along the lines of “We’re not saying its the only way”, or “It works for us, it might work for you”, or “We’re not claiming that blah blah”)

Maybe 37S could have a big fat disclaimer at the top of the blog saying “Note: this is our opinion based on our experience doing our sort of work, this is not scientifically verified to work in all cases for all companies.
Do not sue us if your company doesn’t work with our methodologies.”

Tom Greenhaw 19 Apr 06

Ahh, to have balance… (and common sense)

We all know that the correct amount of concrete concise direction (ink or electronic) for a project makes everyone happy. Can you cook without a recipe? Sometimes. Can you build a house without plans? Probably shouldn’t.

I find it refreshing to infer that 37S is trying to pass on experience about setting customer expectations. What experienced developer hasn’t run into misunderstandings?

qwerty 19 Apr 06

My comment was mainly a reaction to the comments by bw, Fri�rik M�r, and reactions to previous Less is More discussions. I do appreciate simplicity — it just does not always come in the form of sketches. Specifically for software, there are more elegant specification techniques (like algebraic equalities or state machines). Of course, these don’t work for everything and specifically not for UI design where I am happy to take 37s’ advice. Please just don’t sound like software is entirely defined by what you see.

Sam 19 Apr 06

Lesson learned. From now on I will design software using algebraic equalities or state machines. much more effective.

Sam 19 Apr 06

to clarify to qwerty: this is a blog, not your employee handbook. the authors say what they like. don’t act shocked when “less documentation” doesn’t work in your nuclear missle silo.

scott brooks 19 Apr 06


This cartoon is bang on. Until it is drawn you are relying on a persons interpretation of a word and previous experiences that they draw upon to build a mental picture. Just following on the house idea …….

If i say to you i want a big open room with high ceilings, lots of places for conversation, a fireplace, lots of windows and a rug.

Well that means alot of different things to people ….what if you grew up in a basement appartment? High ceilings to you might be 8’ ….to me whose home has 9 ’ high ceilings mean 11’

The fire place i had in mind was a center fixture that would create alot of conversation space around …..while to someone else that means a wall mounted gas fireplace.

I deal with this all the time in my business. I like to look at it as a matter of narrowing the expectation gap. I find that this is rampent in the web design.

And as far as the guys who keep bringing up the shortcomings of the less is more, no functional specs…37s yadda ya
OF course you dont use this when you design saftey systems for airliners, or nuclear power plants …..get smart.

But if you have the mindset ….and think like this ..yeah it may make alot of sense to what you are doing ….

I truly think that long after the products are gone 37s will have done more then just products. They have changed the way people think. The way they look at things…..

again …keep on keeping on boys … JF see you at MESH.



PS that comic …perfect ….it illustrates what we are trying to change

Lindsey 19 Apr 06

Not that bullet points instead of sketches and screens are ever the way to go, but…what about those of us who aren’t really visual thinkers?

Scott M 19 Apr 06

I get and agree with the general idea that less is more and am a big fan of 37s success, yet still do not get the point from the drawing posted by Ryan. The drawing seems to be saying that More is more. More detail or sharing of information is needed to ensure agreement is not an illusion.

The comic highlights the danger of leaving parts of the agreement unspecified more than it illustrates a difference between bullet points and sketches.

For example, continuing Scott’s example: how do sketches and screens capture the agreement that a ceiling will be 11’ high better than a bullet point that says “Ceilings are 11’ high”?

random8r 19 Apr 06

Hehe I like it… a SKETCH explaining how you should use SKETCHES ;-)

random8r 19 Apr 06

People who are not visual thinkers?

Lindsey - are you saying you can’t understand what that picture represents?

Or are you saying that a real product isn’t as real as a set of words about the real product?

In the words of Krishnamurti - “The words are not the thing”. In other words, if our job is to create houses, a model of a house is going to be much more effective than a ream of paper describing the house.

Scott M 19 Apr 06

Ok- thinking it through more (I’m slow today), I am “seeing” it. The building example is a good one - architects (building, not IT) draw blueprints with text notation where needed. Blueprints do a much better job of instantly communicating expectations than a thick Word document would.

Avner Ronen 19 Apr 06

a short but VERY true post.
i have painful experiences in this domain..

Rob Sutherland 19 Apr 06

Why is the argument either bulleted lists or sketches. Can’t we have both.

Les is more when you’ve gotten rid of only the excess. Less is just less when you leave something important out.

Here a point: A sketch will do a better job of describing how to use something while descriptive text and formulas may work better to demonstrate how the system works.

Rich 19 Apr 06

How are those guys supposed to build a house? I sure hope they hire a construction crew with arms.

Scott M 19 Apr 06

37 Signals’ take on this topic was brought up today on JOS.

When will we be treated to the main event: JF, DHH, and RS on stage with JS?

Lindsey 19 Apr 06

People who are not visual thinkers?

Lindsey - are you saying you can�t understand what that picture represents?

Or are you saying that a real product isn�t as real as a set of words about the real product?

Neither. I’m just thinking that for me, it would really be difficult if I always had to start by making a sketch or mockup of what I wanted instead of just talking through it. I do understand that words have greater potential for being misunderstood. But trust me, my ‘house’ drawing wouldn’t even look anything like my idea of a house, let alone anyone else’s. Heh.

Scott M 19 Apr 06

Ahh… I see the problem. Those guys can dictate the bullet points into their voice recog. software, but have a hard time drawing pictures without arms!