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The 14 Tenants of Polite Design

This is an overview of  the tenants that guide Polite Design.  A lot of this comes directly from the book The Inmates are Running the Asylum by Alan Cooper. Thanks for reading! 

1. Polite software is interested in me.

It remembers what you like and what you don’t.  From session to session it learns about your workflow and adjusts accordingly.

2. Polite software is deferential to me.

Software may politely suggest you are making a mistake but it’s not up to the program to decide.  You do.

3. Polite software is forthcoming.

It volunteers useful information.  If I send a document to the printer, it’s nice to know that there will be a 10m wait because Shirley is printing the entire internet; kitten pictures are adorable.

4. Polite software has common sense.

The system knows not to make a cheque out for $0.00.  Ditto for 5 billion dollars.  If you made a simple mistake that is obvious the system knows and tells you about it.

5. Polite software anticipates my needs.

Most of payroll is a logical sequence of steps.  To make faster load times the system ‘knows’ what’s coming next and works to make that a smoother, faster experience.

Click for link to image and book.
The Source of the Tenants! Click for link to image and book.

6. Polite software is responsive.

If a computer knows the problem, why is it telling you about it when it could be fixing it? If a special setting change is required to upload an employee profile pic to the HR system, it should do it for you.  It knows so you don’t have too.

7. Polite software is taciturn about its personal problems.

Have you ever seen an incomprehensible error message?  Ya know, the kind with lots of code and weird hashtags that makes no sense to you, me or the rest of the known universe?  A polite message in human speak that says ‘I’m sorry, we’re experiencing some technical difficulties.  We’re trying to fix it.  We’ll update you in 10m time.” would be so much more helpful, right?

8. Polite software is well informed.

You know how when you’re surfing the web, occasionally a website page is missing?  The link should never have been offered to you in the first place. Why would you want to go somewhere broken and useless?

9. Polite software is perceptive.

Do you always maximize your screen?  Do you always zoom in?  Do you increase font size?  Software should notice and do it for you.

10. Polite software is self-confident.

No relentless “No really, are you absolutely sure, for the third time, that you would, really, really, really like to delete this file?” messages.

11. Polite software stays focused.

It doesn’t ask you a lot of annoying, repetitive questions that are mostly useless.  And force you to keep answering those same questions, every time you open the program.

12. Polite software is fudgable.

This means you can be flexible. Don’t have all the info but need to send it on to a manager anyway?  Sure, why not?  We trust you. If it was really important, we’d let you know.

13. Polite software gives instant gratification.

When you get your cable package you should be able to watch TV right away and worry about the set up details later.  Am I right?

14. Polite software is trustworthy.

You shouldn’t have to worry about bugs, glitches, or super slow running times.  You have faith that the system is there for you.  Its got your back.


Meite Timshel

Director of the IBEXSKI Design Bureau

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