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Book Review : The Design of Design

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A heavenly perspective ?

The “Design of Design “ –  is a rare book on design. It is an attempt at a heavenly re-marriage, between the theory of design and the practice of design –  that have long been divorced on earth. There is still hope in heaven, as earthly boundaries and practices do not matter from such an elevated perspective. Wonder if you noticed the church in his cover ? May he be blessed.

From such heights he is allowed to discuss computer architecture and building architecture in same breath.

Design education does more harm than good

You may have met in the corridors of engineering department, professors who specialize in design. Their main mission and obsession is to take the “irrationality” out of design, often by developing processes and diagrams that engineers are happy to digest. It makes their world safe cosy and predictable. But not for Brooks…

One obvious injury of accepting the Rational Model is that we miss-educate our successors“.

Now, I wonder if academics could be accused of a greater crime?

They don’t like his book

It’s obvious why. They say, that he is saying nothing new. They are quite right. Prof.Brooks is saying nothing new. Nothing new at all. But what he says people are reading. His previous book : The Mythical Man Month: Essays on Software Engineering  – published in 1975 still sells 10,000 copies a year. Perhaps they find it useful ?

Academics on the other hand are paid to push the boundary of knowledge. But the problem of this academic pushing is that no one except themselves seems to know where they are pushing it. Only other academics are qualified to recognize that it is being pushed in the right direction.

But Fred has street cred

Fred fathered the field of computer architecture, well before most of us were born. His breath and depth of knowledge and experience in design is beyond doubt of great value to those who practice design. This book is a result of a life time of experience and reflection. In his own worlds…

“Its time for mature reaction”

His book is just that. It is indeed a mature reaction.  He brings to the fore the fallacy of rationalizing design. He puts the designer in the driving seat. Design he says, is about the designer and the process of design is best charted by designer who often has to fight tooth and nail to maintain what he calls “conceptual clarity” – which he vests with critical importance. He recognizes emergence (though he does not cal lit as such) playing a critical role in design. He emphasizes the obvious. That design is a co-evolutionary problem, where the problem and solutions need to co-evolve in a creative environment.

His examples in architecture are tepid. His house looks like a house, even thought is near the beach (and not like a skinned fish). Ghery would certainly not be impressed. He seems not be clued-in into the new developments in computational design – which are beginning to bear fruit. Perhaps he is still reacting to the older generation of academics who in vain attempted to bring rational process onto deign. But most importantly he is not saying anything new.

Prof Brooks has got most of the important things about design right

These important things are not new – because they are fundamental issues. Prof Brooks should be credited for bringing them out with such great clarity as a collection of essays that are easy to read. They are amongst the best writings on the theory of design – because he destroys the rest of them.

We now have less to read 🙂


Written by Sivam Krish

March 18, 2011 at 11:24 pm

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