Design Essay

The goal of this assignment is to force you to think hard about design, which is a central force in programming language development. Read Paul Graham's Taste for Makers. Graham lists several critera for good design (incidentally, the art school he refers to is RISD).

Ideally, this assignment would ask you to study a programming language using Graham's criteria. However, this may be unfair to some of you because you may not know any language well enough to judge it, either positively or negatively, on these criteria. You might also jump to faulty conclusions by virtue of not knowing the language (or the area of programming languages) well enough, which makes it harder for us to assign a meaningful grade.

Still, we want you to experience the idea of thinking about design qualitatively, making judgments, and justifying them. To that end, we ask you to pick any well-designed object and to justify your choice using Graham's criteria. Whatever you choose, pick something humans can use, not merely experience (such as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel). You may, obviously, choose a programming language. But you could also eulogise a corporeal object, be it sophisticated (Alessi's kettles by Michael Graves), simple (the Providence railway station) or even commonplace (your grandmother's sewing thimble).

Odds are you can write most passionately about something you have used yourself. Therefore, you should spare us your fantasies, be they about muscle cars, hunting rifles or supermodels unless you've actually experienced them directly. In short, stick to objects you know from experience rather than merely daydreams.

It's okay to write about the emotional response the object triggers in you: after all, all design intends to attract you emotionally (what distinguishes good design is that it succeeds in doing so). If you doubt that, consider the extent to which car ads on TV are visceral, even as they hawk objects that are profoundly technical. However, remember the main focus is the application of Graham's criteria not your emotions.

In at most two pages, explain your object and justify your reasons for choosing it. You can provide photographs, diagrams, links and other reference material in an appendix (that won't count toward your document's length). You may turn in a draft of your essay for comment one week before the final deadline. Although you don't have to turn in a draft and it won't affect your final grade either way, past experience dictates that students who do avail of this option tend to do considerably beter.