Last night, I read the first three chapters of Fred Brooks new book, The Design of Design: Essays from a Computer Scientist. It is awesome.
It is a deep dive into the process and practice of design across many disciplines from software and computer hardware to building architecture. His sources and citations go back to 15AD, and as usual he writes wonderfully and has beautiful, quotable insights.
Chapter 1 discusses the thing that is a “Design Concept.” It exists in a successful design project, even if it is never specifically identified. It is the unifying idea shared among the design leaders (or maybe just one person); the Platonic ideal of an outcome that all efforts stride for; it is constantly updated with new learnings and experiences; it is imperfectly but meaningfully shared among the design leaders; it can’t be completely articulated.
Chapter 2 discusses how engineers think of design, a rational, stepwise approach. He introduces the concept of the “design tree” and discusses how engineers tend to search depth-wise, following a single solution until it shows it isn’t feasible, then jumping back up somewhere in the tree to pursue a different branch. Whereas building architects and other design disciplines tend to do more breadth-wise, comparing and tossing many ideas at each level of detail. He talks about this rational view is very useful as a framework for guiding design and teaching newbies about design, but that it isn’t real.
Chapter 3 goes into why the rational idea of design is wrong. How design is amazingly iterative and intuitive. How individual experience and expertise has more impact than any rules. How resource and other constraints influence decision making. And how it’s not really a design tree but a “design zoo.”
Freakin’ brilliant. It’s been many years since a book has captured my attention so quickly and thoroughly. I’ll admit that a couple of passages actually brought a tear to my eye.
UPDATE: I have now finished the book. I still recommend it, but the first half of the book is definitely the best. Many of the other chapters are case studies of specific instances of design where Brooks was the lead designer, including his house. Not enough visuals, and much of it couldn’t keep my interest. I would have liked his ideas set to analyzing a more diverse set of designs from different designers.
(cross-posted from my LinkedIn Reading List)