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McCall meeting

September 13, 2011 Leave a comment

I had a wonderful conversation with Ray McCall and Clayton Lewis last week, in which we discussed directions for design rationale generally, and for claims as a key element in design rationale specifically.

Ray was a student of Horst Rittel at UC Berkeley during the late 1970s–an architect by training who is in a UC-Boulder/UC-Denver professor position in architecture and planning. He’s worked with Clayton Lewis, Gerhard Fischer, and Anders Morch here at UC, and he’s written and edited several books on design rationale with Jack Carroll, Janet Burge, and other software engineers.

Ray created his own version of IBIS called PHI (procedural hierarchy of issues), building on the notion of issues in IBIS to create an argumentative structure (not unlike one purpose in claims creation). He was really plugged in to the design rationale ideas of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s–JANIS, Alexander’s Timeless Way of Building, Marshall & Shipman’s schema-based elicitation arguments–and he’s stayed up on the more recent approaches from the software engineering domain.

One key idea from the session was Ray’s suggestion that claims upsides and downsides are too polarizing–too likely to prejudice a designer toward thinking of an effect as positive or negative, when it may be quite different in a different context. As an example, a claim might suggest that a blinking light is interruptive (a negative) but it might be a positive when interruption is desired.

One piece of career advice from the session I’ll oversimplify as such: “be Tim, not Ted”. Ted Nelson, the father of hypertext, makes interesting and provocative arguments about the lack of scalability in the web, the poor granularity choice of a “page”, and the lack of bi-directional links. But by many reports he doesn’t compromise on his vision for the web, and his Xanadu system has been described as the longest-running vaporware system of all time. Contrast that to Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web, who essentially gave away his idea to ensure a widely used product. It’s tough to compromise–especially when you’re right–but sometimes it’s the right thing to do. Sometimes!

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