Monday, December 15, 2008

Martin Fowler on DSLs

Martin Fowler's post on Domain Specific Languages reminds me of the time we did a study of user performance of a graphical workflow editor. The graphical workflow editor is really a DSL represented with a graphical user interface. The domain is workflow automation. The language is some workflow description language--or in this case the graphical tool used to write the workflow description.

The purpose of the study was to see how programmers and non-programmers fared when given the same tool and same tasks. The results were very different between the two groups. If I remember correctly, the programmers were more rigorous and accommodating of edge cases and logical fallacies in the task. Whereas the non-programmers plowed through the task without regard for "what if" situations where the workflow could get stuck or produce the incorrect results. The users had different intentions, with the programmers looking for accuracy and correctness, and the non-programmers looking for simple automation.

The point is that there's more to the task at hand than the tools. Besides the obvious "skills" related issues, there's also the user's intent. If we give everybody guns, will we need police any more? If you assume everybody has the same intentions as the police (to uphold the law), then I guess not.


Anonymous blackey said...


9:13 PM  
Anonymous Juha-Pekka Tolvanen said...

Hi Steve,

Interesting experience and setup for the study. Do you have a reference for the whole study? Was it published somewhere?

11:25 PM  

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