Bruce Springsteen and Fred Brooks on Design

I’ve just been listening to Ed Norton interviewing Bruce Springsteen at the Toronto Film Festival earlier this fall at the premiere of the movie “The Promise: The Making of ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’”.  One of the comments Springsteen made in the interview reminded me of a point that Fred Brooks made at the Construx Software Executive Summit last week (which was a great event).

Springsteen put it this way:

And I said man, there’s other guys that play guitar well. There's other guys that really front well. There’s other rocking bands out there. But the writing and the imagining of a world, that's a particular thing, you know, that's a single fingerprint. All the filmmakers we love, all the writers we love, all the songwriters we love, they have they put their fingerprint on your imagination and then on - in your heart and on your soul. That was something that I'd felt, you know, felt touched by. And I said well, I want to do that.

Fred Brooks (author of “The Design of Design”, and of course, famously, “The Mythical Man-Month”) put it a bit differently:

“Great design does not come from great processes; it comes from great designers.    Choose a chief designer separate from the manager and give him authority over the design and your trust.”

Both are really saying the same thing – great, consistent, beautiful designs always come from a single mind expressing himself or herself.

I had lunch with a friend who now works at Facebook and he told me he’s working alone on his project – if he gets to the point where he needs others, he will enlist them, but so far he hasn’t.  He said this is how most things happen at Facebook and the processes would make an experienced software manager like me aghast.  No specs.  No schedules.  No testing beyond developer-driven testing to a percentage of users on the live site.  The ability for any developer to deploy to the live site.  But it’s hard to argue with the results.  This may be how to scale out – have a consistent design (Zuckerberg still oversees the overall design of the site, according to David Kirkpatrick, author of the Facebook Effect) but then allow for autonomy within that design.

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