Dan Ott holding a bottle of hot sauce.
Dan Ott's Website

Notes on the Synthesis of Form—By Christopher Alexander

My notes

This book was a slog for me. Not that it wasn’t enjoyable… but I never felt the desire to pick it up.

On the whole, I enjoyed it, but I don’ know that I’d recommend it. Alexander’s thesis is that design can be modeled by taking into account all the variables, and creating diagrams that communicate the relationships in between them. Identifying which variables are congruent, which are in conflict, we can distill a mathematical formula that will lead us towards a functional design.

While I love the emphasis on legibility and predictability, I found the formulas lacking in applicability and explanation. Maybe I missed the point.

The greatest takeaway from this read, was the concept of “misfits”. Alexander’s argument is that when we set out the requirements of a design, we cannot so much articulate what a thing should be, but are more capable of suggesting what experiences break the requirements. These misfits are quantified by feelings. If a tea kettle feels unbalance when you pick it up, that is a misfit experience… but from the outset, you can’t define what it means for a tea kettle to feel balanced in your hands.

Lots of great out of context pull-quotes if you want to mine them. I didn’t. ¯_(ツ)_/¯


Notes on the Synthesis of Form
Christopher Alexander