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Design Under Constraint

Posted by Charles | February 20, 2009 .

Does anybody still subscribe magazines? I do. Wired Magazine is one of my favorites. The latest issue is one of the best. One of its articles titled “You’re Looking at a Box”, written by Scott Dadich, talks about design, specifically, the Design Under Constraint. Even though all the examples given are things like car, camera, phone and bottle, the philosophy or principle it preaches resonates very well with my believes for software design.

We’ve been suffered too long from over-engineeringed software, what-ever-takes design attitude, cover-all-the-bases mentality and sky-is-the-limit to code for ego-feeding sophistication.

With design under constraint, as the article describes, “Think of a young tree, a sapling. With water and sunshine, it can grow tall and strong. But include some careful pruning early in its development – removing low-hanging branches – and the tree will grow taller, stronger, faster. It wont’ waste precious resources on growth that doesn’t serve its ultimate purpose.”

Here is the passage I liked the most:

“The idea of operating within constraints – of making more with less – is especially relevant these days. From Wall Street to Detroit to Washington, the lack of limits has proven to be a false freedom.”

Indeed, the very  “false freedom” is just the invisible hand behind many of the complexity we have to endure when dealing with software. I wish more and more people realize that, simplicity is beauty, less is more.

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2 Comments so far
  1. ariel sommeria  February 23, 2009 7:51 am

    Hi Charles,
    I feel that the Flex SDK suffers from the very bloat you talk about. One principle that sums it up nicely is “small is beautiful”. Make one small tool that does one thing simply and well and can be easily integrated with other such small tools to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Quite the contrary, unfortunately, of the Flex SDK, where it’s more along the lines of “everything but the kitchen sink”.
    Ariel

  2. Tom Van den Eynde  February 25, 2009 2:23 am

    I’m happy to see that people start to realize that can and must be done simplier. To me everything started to go in the wrong direction when Java was born. Before the Java timeframe there were 4GL development tools that really focused on productivity. It’s not surprising that .NET is so popular. Although it doesn’t offer the same productivity (yet) as the 4GLs of the past, it’s at least a lot easier to get things going compared to Java.
    If (Java == freedom) freemdom = veryExpensive;

    Adobe Flex managed to bring (more) simplicity to web development. It’s about getting things done. It’s not about freedom (although some open source steps have been taken to lure people into this idea). But who cares? We need solutions, not a way to spend budgets. To me Adobe Flex is the 4GL of the UI.

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