Strength in weakness: judo design

The bin purge continues: Strength in weakness: judo design. Alan’s a clever and interesting fellow.

Years ago I also read about a programme to strengthen bridges as lorries got heavier. The old arch bridges had an infill of loose rubble, so the engineers simply replaced this with concrete. In a short time the bridges began to fall down. When analysed more deeply the reason become clear. When an area of the loose infill looses strength, it gives a little, so the strain on it is relieved and the areas around take the strain instead. However, the concrete is unyielding and instead the weakest point takes more and more strain until eventually cracks form and the bridge collapses. Twisted ropes work on the same principle.

Don Norman has the seventh sense: he sees buffers everywhere

Waiting: A Necessary Part of Life — Don Norman on buffers. I think this has possibly the best first sentence of anything I’ve ever read, ever:

Just as dirt collects in crevices, buffers collect in the interfaces between systems.

I’m impressed by the breadth of this. I like the idea that “interface” is a general and fundamental enough concept that the problems we see, and the mental models/tools for thinking about/solving them are essentially similar whether we’re talking about device usability, protocol design, or soft squidgy stuff involving only meat entities.

Problems arise at interface, any interface, be it person and machine, person and person, or organizational unit and organizational unit. Any place where two different entities interact is an interface, and this is where confusions arise, where conflicting assumptions are born and nourished, where synchronization difficulties proliferate as queues form and mismatched entities struggle to engage.

To the analyst, such as me, interfaces are where the fun lies. Interfaces between people, people and machines, machines and machines, people and organizations. Anytime one system or set of activities abuts another, there must be an interface. Interfaces are where problems arise, where miscommunications and conflicting assumptions collide. Mismatched anything: schedules, commuinication protocols, cultures, conventions, impedances, coding schemes, nomenclature, procedures. it is a designer’s heaven and the practitioners hell. And it is where I prefer to be.

Also worth a read: A Fetish for Numbers: Hospital Care.