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The Process of Design

I've been thrashing lately - making lots of effort, but nothing gets done. Finally today, I stayed in bed for an hour just starting at the ceiling and thinking about my design. To any observer, I would appear to be lazy and doing nothing. But by thinking carefully about the constrictions on the design and the required behavior, I was able to logically come up with a working redesign.

This is how it always works to design something that works. You have to be staring off into space in a quiet place, apparently doing nothing for a while while the gears turn inside your head.

With the hectic busy-ness of business, this is often forgotten. A lot of motion and noise are considered more macho and appears more respectable to many others. But it is not the best way to get things done.
Scott
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
 
 
I used to go to a massage therapist every week, and it worked wonders.  I'd lie there for an hour without the option of getting up and checking email, making a phone call, etc., and just think about whatever.  Sometimes it'd be work, and I'd connect two facts that I hadn't previously connected.  Sometimes, it would be unrelated to work.

Plus, I got a massage, and that's never bad.

I've found I've worked best when I have some barrier to interactivity, whether it's a long bicycle or foot commute, time in the kitchen, or whatever.

I think of lying in bed as the equivalent of a philospher sitting on top of a mountain -- a place to live in my brain away from the distractions so I can find truth.
Art Send private email
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
 
 
I agree that there may be times when just "sitting and thinking" helps solve a problem. 

But I think that the vast majority of time you'd be better off by "sitting and thinking with pencil and paper".  That way you're able to jot down notes, draw diagrams, fit things together (both visually and verbally), all with a record of what you're doing. 

I'm not saying that adding pencil and paper to "thinking" is always better, but I do think it's damn close to always being better.
Herbert Sitz Send private email
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
 
 
>But I think that the vast majority of time you'd be better off by "sitting and thinking with pencil and paper".  That way you're able to jot down notes, draw diagrams, fit things together (both visually and verbally), all with a record of what you're doing.


That's an assertion you cannot make, without in fact *being* the OP. For me at least, I work better in my mind, instead of on paper. If I write it down, it'll will leave my mind. Then inevitably, I'll lose the paper and be stuck.

If you want to keep up appearances while thinking, draw random lines on a pad while you are thinking. This action takes zero brain effort and makes it look like you are doing something, while in reality, you can be off in design land in your head.
Dan G Send private email
Tuesday, September 28, 2004
 
 
.//If you want to keep up appearances while thinking, draw random lines on a pad while you are thinking. This action takes zero brain effort and makes it look like you are doing something, while in reality, you can be off in design land in your head. //

Well isnt that assertion also...It is just a matter of perception. I find it much better when I put things on paper and draw connectors between the various points...
Mr Own Company Send private email
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
 
 
So the conclusion might be: don't just do something, sit there! (for any given values of "doing" and "sitting" - one mans doing is another mans sitting.)

BTW, you should look up distributed cognition, it's deeply fascinating. Who says thinking is confined to the skull...? E.g. http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0521574234/qid=1096453198/ref=sr_8_xs_ap_i1_xgl/202-1960703-6534239
Morten Ranulf Clausen Send private email
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
 
 
For me, both methods work, but for slightly different problems.  If I have to structure code, think of interrelationships and calling sequences, then just looking out the window or walking around a patch of woods is perfect.  If I have to find an algebraic algorithm to display just this particular set of pixels, and not those, then paper and pen with a list of inputs matched with outputs is necessary.

And <OT> pen beats pencil for me:  it is clearer and, if/when  the work is wrong I cross it out and rewrite the section.  Pencil erasers make irregular smudges with small areas of partial erasure, a more confusing presentation.</OT>
 Barry

Wednesday, September 29, 2004
 
 
I stand by my statement that almost all types of "thinking" are better when augmented by paper and pencil.  I assert that this is not true only for me; it's true for most people just as a basic psychological rule.

Why would this be true?  I think it's pretty much for reasons related to something David Allen said in "Getting Things Done":

"IF you aren't writing anything down, it's extremely difficult to stay focused on anything for more than a few minutes, especially if you're by yourself.  But when you utilize physical tools to keep your thinking anchored, you can stay engaged constructively for hours."

This isn't to say that you can't get any good thinking done if you don't write things down, just that if you're thinking about something complicated that you're almost certain to do it better by writing things down to keep your thinking tied down, have quick reference to exactly what your thoughts were ten minutes ago, have physical representations so you don't get off into mental la-la land, etc.

And as another semi-OT comment, I generally prefer pencil and paper to pen and paper.  But I do that only because I have my trusty Staedtler Mars Plastic block eraser that can fully erase my pencil marks.  Amazing product, it fully erases and the block eraser lasts for years.  If my eraser left smudges then I'd dislike pencil and paper, too. ;)
Herbert Sitz Send private email
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
 
 
Herbert,

I think you are trying to argue with a statement no one made. :-)  No one is saying,"having paper and pen handy is a very bad idea!  I'm so much smarter if there's no paper nearby!"

What some of us are saying is that sometimes the problem is precisely that we are focused and we need to defocus.  Almost all "a-ha" moments I experience in the shower are the result of connecting two seemingly unrelated items in a new way.  Short of going through a list of all factoids that make up my world, there aren't a lot of ways staring at a piece or pieces of paper was going to result in a solution.

Certainly, if there's no paper handy, that critical binding can be lost and as irretrievable as a dream, but paper itself may not be the enabler to finding that relationship.
Art Send private email
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
 
 
Art -- FWIW, at least one poster said, "I work better in my mind, instead of on paper."  And the OP suggested that you could think better when there is no outward sign of thinking at all, which implies that you're not writing things down or otherwise "looking like you're doing work."

Otherwise, I'm in total agreement with you.  Though I think you're talking about "Aha" moments that are produced more by working with problems and allowing them to ferment or gestate inside you until at some point you simple "see" the answer.  I can wake up to an epiphany like that, or have it suddenly in the shower, or during a massage, when I wasn't even consciously thinking through my problem at all. 

That's an entirely different thing from when you're consciously trying to think through a difficult problem soley in your mind, without help from writing things down to keep track of things.  And, again, I'm not saying that trying to consciously solve a tough problem solely "inside your head" is a bad thing, just that it's not as effective as combining your thinking with writing things down.
Herbert Sitz Send private email
Wednesday, September 29, 2004
 
 
... I even find myself going to my UML tool & wiki to think about a problem. Writing WHAT, HOW, WHY & working with IDEAJ or WISH to prove my toughts. 've Just put a scanner & webcam near me so that I can scan the papers into the wiki.

I must admit it has taken me years to be able to use all the tools & techniques to the current extent.

It pays anyway since I am quite satisfied with what is produced those days.

The main issue is to "get started". I found out that if I haven't had my 8 hours of sleep that any design/programming effort will be nearly impossible.
RedFox
Thursday, September 30, 2004
 
 
For "Aha" moments, I think they happen mostly in the shower... which is near my desk BTW.

As I am self employed, I sometimes get one just to get those "Aha"s. It looks like a massage in some ways...
RedFox
Thursday, September 30, 2004
 
 

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