Monday, 17 June 2013

On research and application

I am currently lucky enough to be working on a project where the developers are looking into what they can learn from academic computer science and spiking various options to explore the solution space. This got me thinking to how relatively rarely you see this, in my experience programmers tend not to read industrial journals in the same way that say civil or electrical engineers might. 

One thing that I would expect to see more in agile literature are Grice's conversational maxims (Grice 1975)

Maxim of Quantity:

  • Make your contribution as informative as is required for the current purposes of the exchange.
  • Do not make your contribution more informative than is required.
Maxim of Quality:

  • Do not say what you believe to be false.
  • Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.
Maxim of Relation:

  • Be relevant.
Maxim of Manner:

  • Avoid obscurity of expression.
  • Avoid ambiguity.
  • Be brief (avoid unnecessary prolixity).
  • Be orderly.
For me these are very good guidelines when producing user stories. I'm not sure if it is wishful thinking but I'm sure I have seen a reference to Grice's Maxims in relation to writing good user stories, but I can't find it now so any help in tracking down an example would be greatly appreciated.

Another piece of research that we can look for lessons in producing good user experiences is the work of Cherry (1953). This was a great favourite to quote at university in our HCI classes, so has stuck in my mind. Here Cherry introduced the cocktail party problem; you can see similar examples in the mix of fonts, colours and style present in poorly designed brochures, presentations and web sites across the corporate world - as parodied by

I am sure that there are plenty more examples of more research that isn't more widely known, I did consider talking about deep structure but Chomsky's papers on the subject aren't as easy to read for a non-linguist as Grice. I will be on the look out for papers in fields such as linguistics, psychology and knowledge management that I can learn interesting lessons.

Further Reading

On a slightly tangential note which kind of research is best for industry? applied or pure? Shaun Coffey has written a couple of good blog posts on this
Another set of interesting blog posts are Linguistics for software developers I,II and III at The World of Yesterday.


Cherry, E. C. (1953). "Some Experiments on the Recognition of Speech, with One and with Two Ears". Journal of Acoustic Society of America 25 (5): 975–979.
Grice, H. 1975, 'Logic and Conversation', Syntax And Semantics, 3, pp. 41-58, MLA International Bibliography

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