Seven Sins of Mobile Development: Jonathan Kohl’s Sinfully Good Talk at Agile Vancouver

While consumers religiously buy the newest products and software available, it’s not often that the behaviour of the people behind the magic is considered in religious terms.

On Monday night, Jonathan Kohl worked to change that for the members and fans of Agile Vancouver. In a speech delivered to 80 attendees, Jonathan Kohl took the faithless to task with a breakdown of the seven deadly sins of mobile development.

Jonathan Kohl, it must be said, is an animated speaker. While he remained stationary, his hands did not, gesticulating as sharply as any preacher should.

There was power at the pulpit, but the allocation of sins to flaws in software design was uneven. Some sins were attributed to design flaws because they incited the sin in their user; others, like Gluttony and gGeed, were sins committed by designers while they designed. Sloth was a unique case of the sin being inherent to an app after it was poorly designed.

Each sin was diagnosed with a list of symptoms, and then Kohl prescribed cures for developers at each step of the process: to solve the problems that Pride causes, for instance, designers are to be empathetic, developers are to follow framework guidelines provided to a T, and testers are supposed to use real world scenarios in their tests.

According to Jonathan, the most common sin of the seven is greed—people hogging networks, leading to shoddy usability. Though he was keen to emphasize that professional software development firms with good engineering practices managed to stay on the straight and narrow.

This is common sense. The speech was chosen to appeal to the widest possible audience, according to the man himself. It likely does appeal to a wide audience.

But one would hope that not too many of the attendees of an Agile Vancouver event have to be told to think about the way an app would be used in its design. Yet the questions at the end of the speech revealed a need for more events like this one.

One man brought up the issue of funding—as in, how was he to justify to his investors the expense of the QA testing as outlined in the presentation? The murmurs of agreement to that question were disheartening, but not only did Jonathan handily dismiss the concerns with his own experience (he’s rigged up a testing network for less than the price of his MacBook Air), other audience members chimed in with the local incubators that would best suit the needs of the inquirer.

“Repent!” he shouted, at the conclusion of the sins. He paused for a moment for effect. “Or, alternatively, exploit these seven human weaknesses and satiate those desires so that people come away with a positive experience. Make people tempted. Why are some so addictive? Nomophobia, the fear of being without your device, is a thing now. Not only do people dislike being without their devices, they now FEAR being without them. Think what makes these devices so addictive, and try to pull that into the work that you do. Feed the emotion, and turn the seven deadly sins into seven virtues of profitability and great user experience.”

After the talk, Jonathan seemed hopeful and contemplative. Quick to praise the vibrancy of the Vancouver tech scene compared to that of his hometown of Calgary—“there’s a lot of interesting things, interesting people, and great energy in Vancouver right now”—and eager to see the rise of tech investment in Calgary when the natural resources diminish.

It’s been a few years since he won Agile Vancouver’s notice with his essay arguing for “Post-Agilism” as a way of life, and Jonathan is keen to continue contributing to their vision. With a few projects at home (a new HTML5 app, the recent book launch, continuous talking gigs and workshops), he keeps busy.

Despite spending an hour and a half discussing development sins, Jonathan sees the future beyond them, and sees it coming within five years.

“We’re going to learn like we did with the Web and other technologies before,” he says. “We’re at the cutting edge of a lot of these experiences. We’ll learn. We’ll adapt.”

He grinned as he made his confession. “We’ll have new problems instead.”

As long as new problems means new material for his speeches, Agile Vancouver’s likely to be fine with that.