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Design Tool Design February 23, 2012

Posted by reto wettach in prototyping tools.
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Bret Victor, a designer who worked amongst others for Apple and Al Gore, talks about creativity and tools and has some important principles he follows when developing his tools:

“Creators need an immediate connection to what they are creating.”

He means by this that – while creating – changes has been experienced immediately. I agree on that: in art and design this is called “thinking within the material”. Bret says that “so much creation is discovery – and you can’t discover anything if you cannot see what you are doing!”

Applied to software developement, Bret is criticizing that coding (aka writing text into a text editor) is disconnected from the result. One works “blindly” in the text editor – “without an immediate connection” to the result.

Instead Bret is suggesting a system, where result and code are next to each other, and where changes in the code affect the result immediately. These changes can be done by typing of by a slider, which allows to change values dynamically:


(image source 3:46)

This is programming philosophy is also working for dynamic results as computer games and for complex programming algorithms!

Bret is applying his design principle also to electronic design – based on simulation:


(image source, 25:59 – with the mouse one can change the current)

I am a little surprised that – for design of analog electronics – Bret is talking about the simulation – even though they look wonderful and convincing for the chosen example. I would think that his principle applied to design of electronic circuits would be rather based on doing the real thing than playing with a simulator…

Regarding Fritzing, I am wondering what this philosophy would mean. I guess the first step would be to have more transparent programming environment for micro controllers, which not only allows the modification of values and code in real time, but also give feedback on every single piece of information available, be it on value of datatypes or on current situations at various ports. In a next step it would be interesting to develop certain electronic components, which can change their behavior dynamically (as a resistor).

Great talk!

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