New Article: Quality With a Name

05 Apr, 2006

I've finished a new article, Quality With a Name.

I'm the kind of person that likes logical frameworks and structures. When I think about design, I can't help but wonder: "What's the intellectual basis for design? What does it mean to have a good design?"

That's when I run into a problem. Many discussions of "good" design simply focus on specific techniques. These discussions often have undisclosed assumptions that one particular technology is better than another: that rich object-oriented domain models are obviously good, or that stored procedures are obviously good, or that service-oriented architecture is obviously good.

With so many conflicting points of view about what's "obviously" good, only one thing is clear: "good" isn't obvious.

Other folks describe good design as "elegant" or "pretty." Some might say it has "Quality Without a Name" (QWAN)--an ineffable (that means "indescribable," kids) sense of rightness in the design. The term comes from Christopher Alexander, a building architect whose thoughts on "patterns" formed the inspiration for software's patterns movement.

I have a lot of sympathy for QWAN. I, too, will describe a design as "elegant" or "pretty." In college, I had a professor, Dr. Lum, who liked the phrase "truth and beauty." Good design is Truth And Beauty.

There's just one problem. My QWAN is not your QWAN. My "Truth And Beauty" is your "Falsehood And Defilement." Us software folks seem prone to religious wars, which makes it worse. (Emacs vs. vi, anyone? How about Windows vs. Linux or domain models vs. stored procedures?)

QWAN is just too vague. I want something better.

Read the whole thing.