Software Engineering Parables 2: Archie Bunker

All in the Family
All in the Family

My next parable comes from Jesse Schell’s wonderful book “The Art of Game Design.”  In the book at some point Dr. Schell starts recounting the story of the development of the hit TV show from the 70’s, “All in the Family.”  So the show had been planned out and they filmed a pilot episode and decided to do some user testing by having some people watch the episode and asking them what they thought of the show.  After having watched the pilot episode people were pretty impressed, they liked it for the most part, except they thought that the show should would be more enjoyable without Carroll O’Conner’s character, Archie Bunker.

If you haven’t seen “All in the Family” before, Archie is the working class patriarch of the family.  He has his progressive daughter and son-in-law living with him.  They often end up in some debate where it is Archie’s old fashioned conservatism vs. his son-in-law’s progressive views.  Archie became an important vehicle for satirizing old fashioned prejudice and the show was wildly successful.  Bottom line, “All in the Family” would have been a load of shit if they listened to the feedback.  Not only that, I’ll say the world would be a worse place without Archie Bunker.

Jesse Schell provided this anecdote as the cautionary tale to balance the call to do user testing.  It is that, but also I see it as a tale that highlights the need of a vision for your work.  Had Norman Lear just been seeking to make money he would have tried to please everyone and thrown out Archie Bunker.  Fortunately for us he was in a position where he could execute his vision and make the show he wanted to make.  This was the product we fell in love with, because it didn’t dilute its raison d’etre.

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