Software engineering whispers: The effect of textual vs. graphical software design descriptions on software design communication
Journal article, 2020

Context: Software engineering is a social and collaborative activity. Communicating and sharing knowledge between software developers requires much effort. Hence, the quality of communication plays an important role in influencing project success. To better understand the effect of communication on project success, more in-depth empirical studies investigating this phenomenon are needed. Objective: We investigate the effect of using a graphical versus textual design description on co-located software design communication. Method: Therefore, we conducted a family of experiments involving a mix of 240 software engineering students from four universities. We examined how different design representations (i.e., graphical vs. textual) affect the ability to Explain, Understand, Recall, and Actively Communicate knowledge. Results: We found that the graphical design description is better than the textual in promoting Active Discussion between developers and improving the Recall of design details. Furthermore, compared to its unaltered version, a well-organized and motivated textual design description–that is used for the same amount of time–enhances the recall of design details and increases the amount of active discussions at the cost of reducing the perceived quality of explaining.


Software modeling


Graphical representation

Software engineering

Family of experiments

Knowledge sharing

Textual representation

Software design


Rodi Jolak

University of Gothenburg

Maxime Savary-Leblanc

University of Lille

Manuela Dalibor

RWTH Aachen University

Andreas Wortmann

RWTH Aachen University

Regina Hebig

University of Gothenburg

Juraj Vincur

Slovak University of Technology Bratislava

Ivan Polasek

Slovak University of Technology Bratislava

Xavier Le Pallec

University of Lille

Sebastien Gerard

CEA, Institut LIST

Michel Chaudron

University of Gothenburg

Empirical Software Engineering

1382-3256 (ISSN) 1573-7616 (eISSN)

Vol. 25 6 4427-4471

Subject Categories

Software Engineering



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