Alan Cooper - From Visual Basic to an UX Guru

Alan CooperWhile the online revolution and programming frontiers undergo a significant revolution, Alan Cooper is a name that heads the list of eminent contributors. Alan Cooper is an American software designer and programmer, entrepreneur, founder of the Cooper Design consulting company and popularly known as “The Father of the Visual Basic programming language”. He was born  June 3, 1952 in Marin County, California and attended the College of Marin to study Architecture.Alan CooperAlan Cooper - Emergence as an Entrepreneur

Alan Cooper took up programming, primarily to pay for his college. By the time he left college, his intense passion for programming motivated him to establish the Structured System Group (SSG), one of the first microcomputer software companies, in Oakland, California. He designed several business utility software-like accounting products, General Ledger, and marketed them through advertisements in magazines such as Byte and Interface Age. Cooper, along with Gordon Eubanks, worked for two years at Digital Research Inc., in Monterey to develop, debug, document and publish their business programming language, CBASIC.

Subsequently, Cooper left his job to develop desktop application software all by himself and created a revolutionary programming language called Visual Basic in the milestone year 1998. Visual Basic served as a landmark platform for a wide range of business application software after being bought by Microsoft to develop the globally acclaimed “Windows”.Alan CooperCooper’s views on Persona-Based Designing

While User Experience and User Satisfaction are the two emerging pillars of the digital world, Alan Cooper’s theory on using Persona as a design tool has been a guiding principle for millions of User Interface experts across the globe.

Persona is an aspect of a hypothetical character - representing a user according to the goals, needs, and interests of the user. Marketing Personas, Proto Personas and Design Personas are the three distinct categories of Personas he recommended. While outlining the key attributes of Persona-based Web-Design, Cooper further elaborates:

  • Reflects patterns observed in the market and demographic research.
  • Focuses on the present Industry demands rather than the future.
  • The Persona needs to reflect realistic points and not be idealized.
  • The Persona should help business owners understand their targeted customers - context, behavior, attitude, needs, challenges and goals.
  • The Persona acts as the voice of the user, guiding and directing the needs of the user.
  • With the Persona, a scenario needs to be created that will narrate a story of how the product would be used in the future.

The Essence of Personas to the User Experience (UX) Teams

Cooper also highlights the need for the UX team to understand the context of the Persona’s environment and activities. Inadequate market surveys may lead to the risk of creating a product that will not register with the user.

The use of a minimum of two Personas in the design process helps in addressing critical design decisions such as:

  1. Validate or certify design decisions.
  2. Prioritize key product feature requests.
  3. Used as inspiration in proactive ideation.
  4. Serves as a key element for critiques.

Cooper, co-founded by Alan Cooper and his wife Sue, is one of the top ranking User Experience (UX) and Service Design Companies operating out of San Francisco. Cooper typically leverages the benefits of a good Persona in order to advance business objectives.

Enhanced UX for Conversion Rate Optimization

Conversion Rate Optimization is the process of using analytics and user feedback to improve design performance. User Interface design can help one steer website visitors to perform actions such as  filling out a survey form, download information, call for a consultation or purchase a product.  According to Cooper, Persona-based User Interface Design could impact positive probabilities for conversion rate optimization on websites and email. There has often been a variety of analytical tools including heat mapping and A/B testing to determine the most effective UI design for a website. Persona-based Analytics is one of the most promising of them all.

A Transition from Entrepreneur to Author

Alan Cooper’s contributions for better understanding of Web Design essentials and its impact on business were accomplished  through his following books:

  • The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why high-tech products drive us crazy: This immensely popular book reveals that, contrary to appearances, business executives are not controlling the high-tech industry. They have accidentally or without any intention empowered programmers or engineers and put them in charge of creating products or business processes that generates in a huge waste of money, hampers customer loyalty and destroys the competitive advantage of the company. They have actually let the inmates run the asylum; the workers are running the organization. Cooper offers a provocative perspective and explanation of how talented employees may repeatedly design bad software-based products. In this book he speaks about his own work with companies, big and small, to create products that will both provide a sudden feeling of excitement and pleasure to users and improve the baseline.
  • About Face: the essentials of interaction design: A rare book on Web-Design principles that is fun to read, though it shakes off fundamental beliefs and packs the enthusiastic UI/UX experts with useful parameters necessary to make the right product design decisions. The evolved landscape pertaining to interactive designs and strategies, ranging from touch-screen phones and tablets to web and desktop applications are some of the interesting highlights.


Alan Cooper has been an Industry front-runner and motivational speaker in niches of User Experience, Persona articulation, Conversion Rate Optimization and Consulting. From a programming mastermind to addressing the riddles of customer psychology in designing intuitive product interfaces, Alan Cooper has been widely appreciated and influential.


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