Joel on Designing a Trash Can

Joel Spolsky writes on "What is design?":

Ok, light, heavy, big, and small. What else. It should be closed on the
top, so rubbish doesn’t fly away in the wind. It should be open on the
top, so it’s easy to throw things away.

Reminds us a lot about requirements for a software development project, right? Joel’s thesis is that design is all about making tradeoffs, and has nothing whatsoever to do with art.

Even if I believe that such a view is very productive, I’m afraid I don’t agree with him: even if the design space is very constrained, there’s still room for artistic freedom that can make a thing feel just right. Or, we’re probably talking about different things here; if you read Joel’s article carefully, I get to the conclusion that he believes that art is the same as decoration. Which is doubtful, to say the least.

Look at music, for instance. In the Baroque period, one of the stricter forms you could compose in was the fugue. There’s a framework of constraints on how you could construct a fugue, with lots of tradeoffs. So within such a framework of constraints, did Bach design his fugues, to which he added some decoration, just to make it (musical) art? Nope, his fugues are definitely solid pieces of art. But of course, we can see that there are definitely many elements of design in them.

On the other hand, if you listen to modern classical music, you can hear that many of those composers don’t have to obey any constraints at all when they write music. And maybe that’s when art becomes just "decoration"?

And I’m sure you can make a mobile phone with all the tradeoffs done right, but which noone would want to buy because it’s just too ugly.


Blogging Vacation

I’ve been on blogging vacation (that is, vacation from blogging) for a while, and I guess it’ll continue for another few weeks. I’ve been moving, after divorcing, and I need to make sure things (including myself!) get into their right  places. But I’ll be right back after that!

Meanwhile, watch this! It’s a XUL application (for Firefox) which is an interface to Amazon. Now we’re talking nice web GUIs!