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Tags: HomeworkOne

name matt bailey
status undergrad senior
assignment Homework One
due 9-12-06

Homework Assignment #1

Examination of Radical Design On the Web


  1. Arising from or going to a root or source; basic
  2. Departing markedly from the usual or customary; extreme
  3. Favoring or effecting fundamental or revolutionary changes in current practices, conditions, or institutions
  4. Slang Excellent; wonderful

Position Paper: A Science of Software Design? by Michael Jackson

  • Position Paper by Michael Jackson that defines Radical Design as follows.
 "Radical design, by contrast, delivers new product forms if only by new combinations of old
 parts to meet new demands. The designer tackles new problems and devises new solutions whose
 properties are not known in advance. Much perhaps most software development involves radical
 rather than normal design. This is a mark of our immaturity, lack of specialisation, and 
 inability to learn from our mistakes. But it is also a consequence of the versatility of
 computers (unparallelled by any other product). An unprecedented combination of features 
 never seems impossible; we readily merge the functionality of barely understood disparate
 products into one new product that is even less understandable; and we welcome without 
 complaint our customers’ apparent preference for complex and richly interoperating 
 functionality over simplicity and reliability."
  • Is this paper in anyway related to our class? There seems to be some similarity.

More on Michael Jackson's "Radical Design" - Piotr's R&D blog

 "The best that should be expected of a radical design is that it not be completely broken, and provide the
 motivation for further design work. I guess that software engineering is doing mostly radical design so far, and
 Michael would like to see it move towards normal design. But is it possible that the nature of software
 precludes normal design a priori?

 Pamela Zave is now talking about applying some of these principles to telecommunications. I didn't see the
 relationship to Michael's talk, it seemed to be about an architecture for composable telecom system features.
 I'm afraid I didn't quite follow, though."
  • Pamela Zave and Michael Jackson are currently working on these telecommunication applications and more can be found here.
  • More information on Michael Jackson's work can be found by searching Michael Jackson and Radical Design.

Democratic Design by Paul Vanner

 "While the creative design process is something to be valued, the skills of designers,
 architects, urban designers and planners should not be buried and submerged but debated 
 and considered by end users.  However, neither the general school curriculum nor the 
 higher education system encourage any erosion of the professional power earned through 
 six or more years of study. I believe that good design in the public realm will only come 
 when we have procedures in place that encourage public dialogue and an understanding of 
 the benefits to be derived from good design."
  • Paul Venner associates "Radical Design" with a break from traditional Welsch architecture while maintaining distinct cultural aspects. Radical is used as a term to express a break from the method of copying traditional examples, but not tradition itself. He advocates the influence of the public in design and architecture in order to create a national identity and unity in design.

Radical Design-Driven Innovation: The Secret of Italian Design by Roberto Verganti and Claudio Dell’Era

 "Radical design driven innovation, that is an innovation that proposes breakthrough messages, has a
 completely different balance among the three types of knowledge. Here the driver of innovation, the
 starting point, is not technology (although technology is crucial, as a mean to create meanings) nor a
 customer requirement. No one would seriously imagine that a user would ever explicitly ask for a “human light”,  
 or for a flexible spiraliform bookshelf, or for a spaceship-like squeezer. And indeed,
 Italian manufacturers rarely rely on classic market analysis based on surveys or focus groups, nor
 they invest intensively in those ethnographic research techniques that recently have achieved so
 much attention in the business arena. Simply, they know they would never get a radical innovation
 of meanings out of these methods, since a radical innovation of meaning is not pulled by the
 market. Rather, it is the result of a vision about a possible future. Ultimately, we can claim that
 radical design driven innovation is a design-push activity, i.e. it is the result of a vision, almost an
 ideology, that resemble the typical driver that moves a designer. Take it as a provocation, radical
 design driven innovation (a design-led process) is closer to technology-push (an engineering-led
 process) rather than market-pull innovation."
  • Radical design as seen through Italian design. I thought both the process of creation and innovation aspects were very close to some of the Graham readings.

Readings and Notes

Notes on "Radical Design: From Pencils to Software to Processes to Clothing"

  • How does the model of development in a large scale company and Radical Design conflict? While they certainly differ I see them both serving a purpose. Is Radical Design a method you see as being adoptable in that enviroment? Is this intended for startup and individual projects only?
  • Is Radical Design dependent on larger clusters of existing enviroments as the ones mentioned in the proposal (google maps, TiVo...)? Many of these enviroments are products of larger companies. In order for Radical Design to be effective do these larger domains need to exist?
  • If you don't have control over the development of the other APIs do you run the risk of your microAPI becoming outdated or broken?
  • What examples exist or are imagined that pertain to Radical Design in clothing, pencils and other consumer products?
  • Does Radical Design promote the boutique market rather than the wholesale. What I mean is that is quick and restrictive development sometimes necessary in order to get ahead in some markets? Does Radical Design require too much attention to be effective in market where being first is best or an advantage?

Notes on Paul Graham's "Hackers and Painters"

Interesting Quotes

"Only a small percentage of hackers can actually design software, and it's hard for the people running a company to pick these out"

  • I think this is a crucial point to be considered in our class. Individuals motivated to make beautiful code will do so in a way that works for them. There are certainly strategies to consider in the design process that are worthy of study, but at some level there's a distinction between those who live to code and others to code to live (or whatever realm you're dealing with). It's my belief that design theory is like philosophy, there are lot's a good things about lots of philosphies, which is why you should never choose just one and always be open to new ones.

"So hackers start original, and get good, and scientists start good, and get original."

"So instead of doing what they really want to do, which is to design beautiful software, hackers in universities and research labs feel they ought to be writing research papers."

"If you want to make money at some point, remember this, because this is one of the reasons startups win. Big companies want to decrease the standard deviation of design outcomes because they want to avoid disasters. But when you damp oscillations, you lose the high points as well as the low. This is not a problem for big companies, because they don't win by making great products. Big companies win by sucking less than other big companies."

  • ...and buying startups.

Product Examination

The Theremin - Brief History and Explanation

The theremin was invented in 1919 by a Russian Scientist by the name of Leon Theremin. It is credited as the first instrument designed to be played without touch. It's also considered the first electronic instrument. It works on the capacitance of the user. Two antennas, one for pitch and one for volume, are interacted with by the musician to create a wide variety of noises.

For a more in depth look see here

 "The theremin contains two radio-frequency oscillators (or resonant circuits). This is called a "beat frequency
 oscillator" by physicists and "ring modulation" by some guitarists. One oscillator operates at a fixed
 frequency, usually about 285 kHz and the other varies between 282 and 285 kHz. When these oscillators are
 combined, they produce two signals, one at 567-570 kHz and one at 0-3kHz. A diode detector removes the higher
 frequency so the lower one is left.

 The variable oscillator consists of a circuit of capacitors and inductors in which the vertical pitch antenna
 and the player's hand serve as the a capacitor. The closer the hand is, the greater the capacitance is as
 capacitance is determined by the distance between the two plates of the capacitor. This is demonstrated by the
 equation:      C=eA/d     ,where C is capacitance, e is the permittivity constant, A is the area of the 
 capacitor's plates, and d is the distance between the plates. Moving the hand towards the pitch antenna 
 increases the capacitance of the oscillator's circuit, thereby reducing its frequency, causing a greater 
 difference between it and the fixed oscillatior, creating a higher pitch. The higher pitch is because higher 
 pitches have higher frequencies. When the player's hand is drawn far enough away, the difference between the 
 oscillators is essentially zero, therby causing sound to stop.

 The volume is controlled by the fixed oscillator. This oscillator creats a current that causes a high frequency 
 voltage to be carried across its circuit's inductors. These voltages are higher when the oscillator's frquencies  
 are the same (when the hand is away) and become lower when the player's hand introduces more capacitance. This 
 voltage is changed into a DC voltage by a detector. This DC voltage controls a voltage-controlled amplifier. The 
 audio signal from the pitch oscillator is amplified here. Its volume is determined by how much voltage is 
 carried through the volume oscillator's circuit."

A schematic for an analog theremin can be found here.

The theremin has enjoyed periods of success but remains reletively obscur. It has a history of being orchestral instrument as well as being used in bands and as a sound effect. The "spooky" vibrato effect has been used in countless scary movies and tv shows.

Evolution of the Theremin

Early theremins often resembled wooden music stands with antenna projecting from the top and side forming a 90 degree angle. The aesthetic evolution is interesting to note. Early designs resembled other musical instruments or objects of the period. More modern theremins seem to emphasize their electronic nature and appear more cold like a labratory instrument rather than musical.

Theremins can come in any enclosure with the only limiting factor being the antenna position. Theremin kits are sold online and have been built in enclosures as varied as cigar boxes and briefcases. While the original theremin was analog there are several circuits available online for digital versions.

The theremin has inspired several electronic instruments since it was first introduced. It also insipired interest in alternative methods of control. The idea of controlling an instrument (musical or non) without the use of touch still remains an interesting subject. The theremin itself was born of a study to find a way to detect movement. Touchless control can be seen today in objects such as doors, soap dispensers and faucets. Even Ipods are reportedly going "touchless".

User Interaction

The touchless control is what drew me to this product initially. I haven't seen the instrument played live (see google video for demo) but from the readings it appears that an experienced user can generate a wide variety of sounds with minimal hand gestures. The device was such a departure from traditional instruments yet found it's way into many traditional formats. It's said even Vladimir Lenin took lessons after seeing it demonstrated.

Due to the touchless nature of the theremin it's notoriously difficult to master. The only feedback mechanism stems is the sound produced, there's no "home" position or visible hand position markers. Work has been done recently at MIT to provide a laser guide to aid in learning gesture based instruments.

The theremin has also been used in interactive art works. The ability of using multiple sources of input combining to form one outup struck a cord with many artists at the time. It also allowed the artist to express an enviroment in sound by placing variations of the theremin in a gallery or studio during an exhibit.

The Radical Step

I'm not so sure there's a radical step waiting for the theremin but the base ideas could certainly be extended. Gesture based control is something that is being explored today and may have some practical use (see Minority Report).

Relevent Links

  1. The Autodesk File - Chronicles the startup of Autodesk, makers of AutoCad. Good read after the Graham article.
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