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Creating a good design


Creating a good design


Desirable attributes


  • A structure that is well thought-out
  • Simple to understand – as far as possible self-documenting
  • Versatile – not limited to operating in a very specific context
  • Beats the tradeoff between powerful-but-complex versus simple-but-weak
  • Robust – fails gracefully
  • Maintainable – diagnosis and repair don’t rely on very specific tools or knowledge
  • Durable – not dependent on factors outside the user’s control


A good design may be hard to create, but it should be easy to appreciate, use and maintain.


The latest technology is alluring, but suffers from:


  • Unreliable, because it is dependent on so many sub-systems that are outside the designer’s control
  • Unmaintainable – hardware increasingly cannot be repaired, software cannot be debugged except by whoever created it
  • Short-lived  - cannot survive neglect
  • Dependent on the organisation that created it


It is very difficult to design IT systems that meet the good design criteria.


Concise coding leads to minimum hardware and software requirements, but at the expense of transparency.  What is good for information systems is hard for humans.


The advent of cheap digital memory has resulted in ever larger programs.  A large program cannot meet the good design criteria.




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