Use movie making as inspirational process for up front design

21 04 2012

At Scandinavian Developers Conference Agile UX inspirator Jeff Patton brought up a lot of interesting stuff.

One of the things that sticked was he mentioned we should be inspired by movie makers when doing up front design and making decisions early in the development process.

(I blend some of my own thoughts with Pattons here, since I often use film making as a metaphor for development processes, so not all are exactly citations..)

When movie makers are looking for investors they cannot come with empty hands and say ”we will see what happens when we start making the movie” Some up front job needs to be done.

Movie makers make a lot of sketches, an early unfinished story board, outlines of the whole movie. They present the outlined story, investors make decision based on the idea presented and not the details! Investors know the finished movie will not look exactly as the outlined story board, and a lot of changes will be made during filming.

This we should learn from when making decisions on software development. We don’t need every detail when doing up front design to make good decisions. Of course, as in film production, there are always risks when investing. But specificing every detail up front does not manage risks!

How much UX design is needed up front before starting programming?

Often UX designers want to do everything up front, by old habits. And then leave it to teams to do whatever they want with it, it’s the production teams problems – I’ve unfortunately see and hear stories about this not very productive way of working. Agile teams want in stead to do very little up front and often have a hard time to know how and why integrating UX people in teams. These two communities need to find the balance, and movie making can help.

Search on ”story mapping” and you will find many inspiring ideas from movie makers on how much design needs to be done up front.

Image from Jeff Pattons presentation at Scandev:





2 responses

21 04 2012
Joakim Holm

Hi Ulrika!

I like Jeff’s (and your) idea to use something other than construction as a metaphor for software development. As metaphors go, this one is pretty decent. But I do have some issues with it…

Firstly, film production (the actual filming) is often very expensive so it is carefully planned in minute detail. There is a definite danger that we will equate this to the ”implementation phase” aka programming. Software development doesn’t work that way (as you know). Also, don’t you think the probability is pretty high that you do more work up-front when faced with that kind of production cost? We don’t work in phases anymore, right?

Secondly, the metaphor assumes that there is some kind of major investment that needs to be done. Making a Hollywood movie is that kind of binary investment. Either you make the movie or you don’t. But software isn’t like that (as you know). We can divide any development work down to features or even parts of features and deliver them incrementally and continuously. Just a steady, low risk flow of value. There is no need for a major investment that must be motivated. And if you work like that, the amount of ”up-front” work needed will be obvious after a while.

For these two reasons (and perhaps others) I think the metaphor is flawed. Even for understanding ”up-front work”.

Here’s a pointer to a good article by Dave Nicolette on software and metaphores. I think you’ll enjoy it:

All the best,


21 04 2012
Ulrika Park

Hi, probably I wrote this too quickly, since the point was not to do a detailed up front design minute based plan before starting ”production” – as you know.

The point is that, at least in those IT organizations where I am, many many investors – even of small money – asks for details in manuscript beforehand. And 99% of all requirement people, project managers, and still too many developers and ux designers have the strong opinion that all details must be written down and/or drawn before any development should start or any investment could be done – no matter how small.

That’s why I like the movie making up front work metaphor – loose sketches, loose budget, loose manuscript has been accepted for a long time in movie business. No one asks for detailed manuscript or story boards beforehand. The ones making Go-No go decisions uses sketches and overall ”skeleton” story board to decide. Why don’t we see this in board meetings for IT / software investments?

And YES, during production, film making and software development are different in many ways. In some ways very similar. What if you’d send away – or accept that someone else sends away – the film director to work with another project during production of the story.. as we do 99% of the time in software development..?

I don’t think any metaphor could be used for software development for all aspects of it. Movie making for some, gardening for some (actually professional garderners also first use sketches, that get details during ”implementation”, they are well prepared for changes due to unforeseen environment issues etc), house building for some, criminal investigations and cooking for some other aspects.

I hope I never will see any one claiming the best metaphor for software development.

thx for making me develop my post. 🙂


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