A Parable of Design

(Copyright Creation Matters, Vol. 21, No. 1, January/February, 2016.)

It was the beginning of the personal computer revolution and anything seemed possible. Creativity was in vogue and Bill was at the cutting edge of what he believed would be a genesis. He had just braved the evening’s gusty rain, as he dashed down the block to pick up a cup of his favorite high-octane, caffeinated black brew. A large draw at the supersized drink warmed him from the roof of his mouth down to his very soul. His mind wandered into paths philosophical as he settled back down in his office high above an affluent Seattle suburb. It would be another late night at work…if that’s what this activity could be called. Work, passion and life had meshed together for Bill lately. All his energy was directed towards creating a whole new operating system that would be at the very heart of the autonomous devices of the future, the DNA of each individual personal computer, the magic inside the machine.

What was the reason that this project gripped him so? Bill mused on it. As he searched his own mind, a couple of answers seemed to come readily to him. . This internal code would run better than anything that could be contrived. Incredible resilience. Extensive error checking and debugging would ensure survivability and minimize the kind of crashes that would doom a program to extinction. Copying would be done with such pristine fidelity that the ten thousandth copy would be an accurate reproduction of the original. Backups, safe-mode, and fallback routines would make this platform stable enough to run without administrators. It would be so well crafted that it would last through the generations. Yet all that stunning power and program complexity must be invisibly tucked down deep inside, far below the external surface.

But this wasn’t enough. No, there was still another design priority that rose even higher in Bill’s mind, one that seemed diametrically opposed to the first. His creation must attract the eye, a package of beautiful flexibility. It might seem impossible to have both incredible stability and immense flexibility, but it must be done. The capacity for variation in appearance must seem almost boundless, even though it would all be within tightly constrained variables. He could envision this operating system coming fully equipped with all the apps that it needs to run in extremely diverse situations. A business environment might require that parameters be limited to a particular repetitive function. Yet a different implementation might benefit from incredible freedom for personal expression with shapes, themes, colors, etc. This would require simple switches that could change a cascade of features quickly and easily based on feedback, so that this product could be relevant in each scenario. He could envision his design inside entities that flew, swam, and sped across the land.  Interfaces must allow maximum interaction with other objects encountered along the way.

But there was one more thing that lay at the bottom of it all. This wasn’t just another job. It was to be a landmark. It was to be a piece of himself, his vision, his very soul. People who had never heard of him would admire his handiwork and see his creativity. Things that one might envision as totally separate operations would all be neatly tied together in one grand design. A suite of applications all smoothly incorporated into his ecosystem. Oh, there would be subtle differences in individual routines as each performed distinctive tasks. Yet a thoughtful glance at the interconnectedness of them all would clearly communicate to the viewer that a single inspired vision had been behind the whole.

Subconsciously Bill reached for the now cooling cup of Joe. The taste of the pungent fluid brought him out of his reverie. He had only seven days to complete the basic layout before it would all be reviewed. The water was still swirling around in the blackness outside his windows as he began afresh to build his masterpiece, a work that would forever change the world.