Monday, March 19, 2012

Bret Victor - Inventing on Principle

I want to recognize excellence. Bret Victor's talk on Inventing on Principle is excellent. Go watch it now if you haven't already. vimeo-link

I loved how the first half exactly paralleled thoughts I've had for a long time which I've summed up as POET: the Principle of Exposure & Transparency - any problem becomes trivial with enough exposure. I was thinking more from the solving-problems angle where Bret Victor was thinking from the creativity angle. I think the ideas mirrored nicely. I definitely liked how he visualized interactive-execution in text-code. That's a nut I hadn't cracked yet. This is just the tip of the ice-berg. Lots of interesting work to be done here.

The principled approach of the second half of Bret's talk was fascinating. I've had a focused path for most of my career, but even still, after watching his talk I've had a hard time simplifying my path down to a single principle. I'm not sure if that's because I don't fully understand my path's essence as well as Bret understands his or if some goals are not distillable down to a one-sentence description. I like his point regarding how a good principle can give you guidance where-as a bad one can be meaningless. "Write beautiful code" - meaningless. "Creators need immediate connection with what they are creating" - meaningful and provides a system of measuring, giving feedback and guiding you through design-space.

I feel pretty strongly about eliminating "artifacts". Historical legacies that are no longer relevant can gum up the works, particularly when they are hidden in plane sight. I also love to invent. As a contrast to eliminating artifacts, I am also drawn to "essential" technologies. What technologies, if they existed, and were done "right" (with as little artifacts as possible) could change the world? I suppose in that light, my Essence & Artifact theme might just be my core principle. Eliminate artifacts; understand the Essence. One might argue it's closer to the meaningless end of the principle continuum. It certainly isn't as concrete as "No Modes". On the other hand, every feature, function, design and architecture can be measured against an Occam's Razor of "is this Essential, or is it Artificial?"

Essence is timeless, simple, powerful, maximally applicable, modular, and focused. But be careful, the purely essential is also purely theoretical.

Artifacts are historical, complex, constrained, difficult, narrowly focused and/or un-focused. But be respectful, artifacts are the only things that are actual.