Design is what you leave behind

I love the ethos in this article: Design is what you leave behind.

This could be a good theme to unpack this year.

We aren’t civil engineers. We can’t build bridges and aqueducts because the ground we build on is ever-changing (literally disrupting). In our technotopia, the best buildings are probably tents, and the best bridges are probably made of rope. What can we leave behind?

There is a similar conflict in this article by Baldur Bjarnason. On the surface, it is about software - but it’s the same thing as design.

The programmer’s mental model is not a reductive axiom, more like a mental state (a style of reasoning - very inchoate, very elaborate, but not bound to logic).

Historically, high-dimensional interiority (imagine the inside of a complex protein) doesn’t translate well to formal methods. (Only the shadows are captured on film. - see Bret Victor’s latest demo)

It’s an old problem that probably never gets fixed, just ignored(?). Even philosophers have this problem. (side note, the best modern philosophers are mainly good at transcribing tacit interior states into explicit formats (words). Their rigor is more profound than their thoughts. (this opinion is not rigorous.))

In other words, we’re taught to feed the machine because we can’t easily teach interiority.

To put it another way: if every conservation a dev team had, every untried hunch, every search on Stackoverflow - if that was all stored and digested by an intelligent machine so that documentation was no longer a thing to do Could the theory (the mental model of the design, the secret ambitions) live on beyond the first programmer? If so, could we design better stuff? Stuff that lived beyond us?

This approach reflects an emerging world view that goes against the grain of design, but it could be future. I call it the Data Scientist’s Mindset and will be poking at it in later posts.


Quick Reads


  • Bijected
  • Occluded
  • Foveated
  • Elided
  • Palter
  • Heavenbanning
  • Spandrels
  • Baader Meinhof illusion
  • Gill-Mann Amnesia

Tagged in: #building #scale

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