The Design of Software (CLOSED)

A public forum for discussing the design of software, from the user interface to the code architecture. Now closed.

The "Design of Software" discussion group has been merged with the main Joel on Software discussion group.

The archives will remain online indefinitely.

if ("Good Design"!="Beauty") {Robert.M.Pirsig+="appalled";}

OK, strictly speaking it should read "Quality"!="Beauty", but hey, it was higher quality the other way ;)

I always have fun reading Joel on Software, but I have to disagree strenuously with the notion that good design and art (read beauty) have nothing in common. I guess one could cop a lame "define art" line there, but the point I'm trying to make is that realisation (or even appreciation) of true quality is as much tied to the form as to the function.

Any doubters should rush off and read Pirsig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" for a heady tour of the topic.

There is no such thing as a well designed <your preferred field of human endeavour here> that is not also in some sense beautiful.

As someone who deals with the fruits of software designers & developers on a daily basis I can attest that the most unimaginative work is generally delivered by the guy with the worst dress sense (assume for the moment that "dress sense" encompasses the broader notion of aesthetic sensitivity, except that it wouldn't fit into the original sentence with the same elegance... I can see you're starting to get the idea ;)

I would therefore suggest to Joel that it is wrong to say "If you have been thinking that there is anything whatsoever in design that requires artistic skill, well, banish the thought." (from

The iPod did not get to be the high quality (i.e. beautiful and desirable) thing that it is by the designers thinking about the aesthetics as an afterthought shortly before launch...
Francois van Lille Send private email
Thursday, January 26, 2006
as I wrote:

"Don't lose hope!"
Joel Spolsky Send private email
Friday, January 27, 2006
I've nothing clever or elegant to add. Just "thank you".
Steve Merrick Send private email
Friday, January 27, 2006
I think that if you're really on the case, you don't see beauty and function as being seperate entities.
revert my buffer
Friday, January 27, 2006
Both sides have a point, but I think when you look at it this way you'll find that Joel certainly strikes truth:

If a product works incredibly well but isn't all that pretty to look at, it's still nice to use and offers a rewarding experience. (say your average litter bin)

If a product looks great but doesn't work at all, no one will want to use it. Regardless how pretty it is, the experience will be frustrating. (can't think of an example, but you fill in the blanks)

A product however that works well and looks great, well if you have any of these ideas drop me a line and don't patent the idea before you do so! (think iPod)

And I recon this is what Joel means when he says "Don't loose hope!", I've read enough of his material to know that he'll touch on visual design, but right now he's just talking about functional design. These two have very little in common as they look at a completely different aspect of a product.
Robert van Kooten Send private email
Friday, January 27, 2006
"If a product looks great but doesn't work at all, no one will want to use it."

Micrsoft Windows being the exception to prove the rule?  ;-)

There are things that are pretty but frustrating to use and, sadly, sometimes one buys a pretty thing _then_ realizes it's infuriating.  Cars are a great example of this.  Many people buy cars because they are the right color or whatever and -- if they aren't UI freaks like me -- just kind of grumble that when they reach for the radio, they turn up the heat, or whatever.  Me, I curse the designer every time my car (or a rental or whatever) betrays me and my expectations.  But then I'm a UI freak. 

Case in point: my fiancee's car is the 5th or 6th Honda and 3rd Accord one or the other of us have owned.  Generally a great car but they broke the instrument panel!  EVERY vehicle I've driven for nearly 30 years makes the instrument panel lights brighter when you turn on the headlights.  Turn on the car: the instrument panel lights up a little, turn on the headlights, it gets brighter.  Try to drive away without the headlights (say, in a brightly lit parking lot) and you soon realize something's not right, the dash is darker than you'd expect.  Not the 2005 Accord!  In the 2005 Accord, you turn on the car and the instrument panel has blindingly bright illumination.  Turn on the headlights and little, non-standard, barely visible green indicator lights up.  Feh!  Who thought of that!
Chris Nelson
Friday, January 27, 2006
Good Overall Product Solution = "Beauty" + "Design" + "..etc"


Good functional design != "Beauty"
Now, the above condition depends on the lame definition of "Beauty" referring to visual beauty.

Good functional design = "Beauty"
The above depends on the lame definition of "Beauty" reffering to something that is just right and working. For eg, when u say some algorithm is beautiful, the beuty understood there is the same beauty understood here.

But then Robert.M.Pirsig has a point because a functionally well design product is not a complete product as long as it is not connected with its user with a usable and aesthetically pleasing coating.

I have no point to make. I just really wanted to ramble.
Send private email
Friday, January 27, 2006
"If a product looks great but doesn't work at all, no one will want to use it."

Everyone likes to pick on Microsoft (and it's often well justified), but another good example of this was the round mouse that Apple made for their iMac years ago. It was very poorly designed, though it looked cool.
David Jordan Send private email
Friday, January 27, 2006
You have a point on the Microsoft part. But that's because of different factors. Computers were getting cheaper and Microsoft had the luck that a lot more people used IBM PC's (or compatible) than Mac's. Thus Windows sold a lot more and they've been able to use that to their advantage ever since.

But I really do think Windows XP works well. It's stable (at least for me) as a rock, it has all the features built in that I want (and otherwise it's really easy to get a program for it to do exactly what you want) and I think it even looks great. Lots of people curse at me for saying this, but I think Windows XP is as pretty as Mac OSX, so there! But that's a matter of taste, or my lack thereof. ;)

I know there are plenty of exceptions to the rule, and some people will take anything just because something looks good, but I think in general the rules I mentioned can be applied.
Robert van Kooten Send private email
Wednesday, February 01, 2006
And as a reply to the round mouse:

A few years ago I had to use a Mac for a project I was working on. The first thing I hated was the mouse. Sure it looks funny, but I didn't like it at all. The ergonimics are terrible, I got cramp in my fingers from holding it. A few times I would grab the mouse without looking and the cursor would move in a completely different direction than I was moving the mouse, simply because I wouldn't feel which way the mouse was oriented and had grabbed it wrong. All little annoyances that although it looks funny and nice, make it very annoying to use it.

I ended up grabbing the USB mouse from my Windows box and using that, worked a lot better.

So maybe not for everyone, but for me the rule definately applied. I liked the way it looked, but after a few hours I ditched it for a different product because I hated the way it worked.
Robert van Kooten Send private email
Wednesday, February 01, 2006

This topic is archived. No further replies will be accepted.

Other recent topics Other recent topics
Powered by FogBugz