Cultivating Your Personal Design Heuristics 

How can we get better as software designers? By becoming more aware of our design heuristics and continuing to cultivate and refine them. Heuristics aid in design, guide our use of other heuristics, and even determine our attitude and behavior. For example, as agile software developers we value frequent feedback and decomposing larger design problems into smaller, more manageable chunks that we design and test as we go. We each have our own set of heuristics that we have acquired through reading, practice, and experience.

This session introduces simple ways to record design heuristics and how to share them with others. You can grow as a designer by examining and reflecting on the decisions you make and their impacts, becoming more aware of seemingly minor decisions that were more important than you thought, and putting your own spin on the advice of experts. While we may read others’ design advice—be it patterns or stack overflow replies, the heuristics we’ve personally discovered on our own design journey may be even more important.

Come to this hands-on session to try out practical techniques for distilling your design heuristics (so you can explore and explain them to others); learn ways to identify competing heuristics; evaluate shiny new heuristics you may read or hear about; and grow your ability to explain your heuristics to others.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand 3 different types of design heuristics: heuristics that aid in design, determine our attitude, and guide use of other heuristics
  • Learn simple techniques for recording heuristics on the fly (Question-Heuristic-Example Cards, Heuristic Gists)
  • Recognize competing heuristics and how to integrate new heuristics into your existing heuristic toolkit


Rebecca Wirfs-Brock
Rebecca is best known as an object design pioneer and the design geek who invented the set of design practices known as Responsibility-Driven Design (RDD). By accident she started the xDriven Design meme (think TDD, BDD, DDD…). She's president of Wirfs-Brock Associates and Program Director of the Agile Alliance's Experience Report Initiative. She also serves on the Hillside Board (patterns community) and the Hillside Europe Advisory Board. In her work, Rebecca helps teams hone their design and architecture skills, manage and reduce technical debt, refactor their code, and address architecture risks. She authored two popular object design books that are still in print and was the design columnist for IEEE Software. She has written patterns for creating and managing magic backlogs, sustainable architecture, agile QA, and adaptive systems architectures as well as essays on the relationship between patterns and heuristics. You can find her design columns, papers, and writing on her website (www/ She's keen on learning and sharing design heuristics and getting others to do the same.


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