Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Notes on Software Design, Chapter 16: Learning to see the Forcefield

When we interact with the physical world, we develop an intuitive understanding of some physical forces. It does not take a PhD in physics to guess what is going to happen (at a macroscopic level) when you apply a load at the end of a cantilever:

You can also devise a few changes (like adding a cord or a rod) to distribute forces in a different way, possibly ending up with a different structure (like a truss):

Software is not so straightforward. As I argued before, we completely lack a theory of forces (and materials). Intuitive understanding is limited by the lack of correlation between form and function (see Gabriel). Sure, many programmers can easily perceive some “technological” forces. They perceive the UI, business logic, and persistence to be somehow “kept apart” by different concerns, hence the popularity of layered architectures. Beyond that, however, there is a gaping void which is only partially filled by tradition, transmitted through principles and patterns.

Still, I believe the modern designer should develop the ability to see the force field, that is, understand the real forces pulling things together or far apart, moving responsibilities around, clustering them around new concepts (centers). Part of my work on the Physics of Software is to make those forces more visible and well-defined. Here is an example, inspired by a recurring problem. This post starts easy, but may end up with something unexpected.