Fluffy Red Towels

Ok, so what do fluffy red towels have to do with software development, innovation, or usability? Let me tell you a little Monday morning story….

Last weekend I was swimming in the pool (which is exciting in itself, since a week earlier we were under a heavy snowfall warning!). When I got out of the pool, I grabbed one of the new towels my wife bought recently. I was thinking to myself “wow – these are really nice towels – nice colour, very fluffy, and very, very soft to touch.” I was impressed. After a few minutes of towelling off, I realized something was not quite right. I was not getting any less wet. Perhaps it had started to snow again? In reality, the towel just was not absorbing anything at all. It seemed to be like one of those shirts with the spill-resistant coating – a nice feature in a shirt, but not quite so nice in a towel. The towel, despite being very nice in appearance and superficially pleasant to use, failed to fulfill its single biggest functional requirement – you could not dry anything with it!

It occurred to me that this is a good metaphor for much of what goes on in product design – in software and elsewhere. Many products which do take into account usability and user experience, do so at the expense of functional design (yes, realize that there are even more products out there which implement functionality and ignore the user altogether). This brought home to me an important fact: as important as usability is, it does not mean squat if the product fails to fulfill its functional requirements.


I have been working in the world of technology for 25-odd years. I am an entrepreneur and consultant, focused on software solutions, social networking, and innovation processes. Currently, I am a Principal Consultant with T4G Limited, specializing in Portal Technologies (including SharePoint), software/systems development, service oriented architectures, and many other things which I will probably not remember until I need to use them. Prior to that, I was VP of Technology at Whitehill Technologies, Inc., where I spent almost 9 years helping to grow the company from a start-up to one of the most successful private software companies in Canada. Prior to that I worked on internet conferencing using early VoIP, and on large military communications projects. Before even that, I worked in satellite control, and remote sensing. Going way back to university, my focus was on theoretical physics and astrophysics. Currently my interests revolve around most aspects of software development, from technologies to management, and in the area of defining sustainable, repeatable processes for innovation within technology organizations. I also have a particular interest in Tablet PC technologies – I have been using one for several years, and I love it. On the personal side, I still have a strong interest in all aspects of science, especially physical sciences, as well as philosophy and comparative religion. In addition, I am into music, playing guitar (badly, I am sorry to say), and reading almost anything I can lay my hands on. I am also a member of the IEEE/IEEE Computer Society, and of the Association for Computing Machinery.

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Please keep in mind that any opinions, points-of-view, comments, or other content which I post to this site are mine and mine alone. They in no way reflect the views of my employer, my country, my dog, my cat, or anyone else you can think of. To paraphrase Monty Python, "That is the theory that I have and which is mine, and what it is, too."

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