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Quintero, F. M. Software that has the Quality Without A Name. 2011


(This article contains the author's thought and is not structured as a research paper. Hence, the following is a paragraph taken from the article but not its actual abstract; the article does not have one.)

So you can see the essence of design patterns: good, tested recipes that don't constrain your implementation in unnecessary ways. The patterns do not mandate a particular style, nor include superfluous decorations: the book doesn't tell you, “make this shape of flourishes in the handrails”; instead it tells you, “a house should have its rooms placed such that sunlight enters them according to the time of the day in which they are most used - East for the bedrooms in the morning, West for the living room in the afternoon”.


Yann-Gaël Guéhéneuc, 2014/05/16

This article describes the author's progress from casual observer to expert in design patterns through learning and using real-world architectural patterns. The author start by stating that he used to dismiss refactorings and design patterns as “nothing that you could not discover yourself”. Then, while renovating/expanding his house, he started studying Alexander's patterns and “became tremendously interested in [Alexander's work]”. He realised that the patterns “do not mandate a particular style, nor include superfluous decorations” and they are an “approach [to] design” with “good solutions […] that wouldn't constraint [the] implementation unnecessarily”. Moreover, the patterns “give […] a vocabulary to talk about how things are constructed”.

From then on, the author introduces the idea of “Quality without a name”: “[a] thing or place has the quality without a name if it is comfortable, has evolved over time in its own terms, is free of inner contradictions, doesn't try to draw attention to itself, and seems to have archetypal qualities”. Things that have the quality without a name seem to have 15 properties in common, according to Alexander's work. The author summarises these 15 properties:

  • Levels of scale: There is a balanced range of sizes. You don't have abrupt changes in the sizes of adjacent things. Elements have fractal scale.
  • Strong centers: You can clearly identify parts of the space or structure.
  • Thick boundaries`: Lines delimit things. In living systems, edges are the most productive environments (e.g., all the critters that live at the edge of the water).
  • Alternating repetition: High/low, thick/thin, shape A and shape B. Things oscillate and alternate to create a good balance.
  • Positive space: Space is beautifully shaped, convex, enclosed. It is not leftover space. Think of how a Voronoi diagram has cells that grow outward from a bunch of points, or how a piece of corn has kernels that grow from tiny points until they touch the adjacent kernels.
  • Good shape: The sails of a ship, the shell of a snail, the beak of a bird. They attain the optimal shape for their purpose, which is beautiful.
  • Local symmetries: The world is not symmetrical at large. But small things tend to be symmetrical, because it is easier that way. Your house is not symmetrical, but each window is.
  • Deep interlock and ambiguity: The crooked streets of old towns. Axons in neurons. It is hard to separate figure and ground, or foreground and background. Two strong centers are made stronger if a third center is placed between them, so that it belongs to both.
  • Contrast: You can distinguish where one thing ends and the next one begins, because they don't fade into each other.
  • Gradients: Things fade into each other where they need to. Concentrations in solutions, snow or earth banks, the wires that support a bridge. The way bandwidth decreases as you move away from the backbone.
  • Roughness: The world is not frictionless and smooth. Irregularities are good because they let each piece adapt perfectly to its surroundings, rather than being an exact copy that may not fit as well.
  • Echoes: Things repeat and echo each other. Things are unique in their exact shape, but the general shapes repeat over and over.
  • The void: Sometimes you get a big blank area for quietness of form. A lake, a courtyard, a picture window.
  • Simplicity and inner calm: Things are as simple as possible, but no simpler.
  • Non-separateness: Everything depends on everything else. You can't separate a fish from the pond and the aquatic plants. You can't separate a column from the base of the building.

The author goes on with Alexander's idea of transformations, which preserve the structure of the things, as refactorings preserve the behaviour of a software program.

software_that_has_the_quality_without_a_name.1400225838.txt.gz · Last modified: 2019/10/06 20:37 (external edit)