Intelligent design vs. Evolution

At my job (and in Silicon Valley in general I think), Agile development is supposed to be the best way to do things. Specifically, the Scrum method encourages an evolutionary approach, where an entire team works together in short cycles and creates a product iteratively (first a barely-functional demo, then a rough prototype, then a more finished version, etc.), without an overall plan.
Scrum works very well for implementation, since it empowers a team to do its own planning, breaks a large project down into brief chunks and reduces the amount of churn and decision-making that can cause delays and rework. It is an approach with an evolutionary philosophy: no one can know at the outset what the right solution is, so let’s just start working and refine as we go.
Coming from the perspective of design, there are some built-in tensions to this approach, however. Design as a discipline has as an article of faith that people can sit down and create a drawing or visualization of an idea that will make things better, and that this idea can help push the expansion of what’s currently possible to engineer (this is not to say that only designers can do design, just defining the activity, everyone does design all the time).
Scrum allows no time for the messy task of conceptualization (other than beforehand), and divides up all the aspects of a project into small, unintegrated tasks, making it hard to see the ‘big picture.’ The team-focused environment encourages strong collaboration, but does not ensure that the value of a product is realized by itself (and the proponents of the method don’t claim it does, either). In fact, the method ensures that engineers, designers, and product people spend less time thinking about whether the product is the right product overall.
What’s needed is less of a focus on methodology, and more of a focus on ideas and people’s talents. Scrum is a fine method to do work, but doesn’t actually solve the problem of making good products. Rather than talking about intelligent design vs. evolution and assuming that one way of doing things explains the entire world, we should be valuing time spent on hard thinking and idea generation just as much as we value the time spent implementing things. There are certainly limits to emphasizing creativity, but there is a sameness to Web products these days I think. We need more really new ideas.
People (ok, one person) have asked me why I refer to intelligent design vs. evolution in the context of making Web sites. I didn’t mean it just as a snide reference; I do think there is an interesting parallel to the religious debate. Warning: this gets weird.
The evolutionary approach is based on a scientific approach to understanding the world

Post a Comment

Your email is never shared. Required fields are marked *