Sunday, March 22, 2009

Programmers, Designers: Do Your Research

Something's been pissing me off. A lot of programmers and designers for that matter pay a lot of attention to efficiency and interface but treat elegance and artfulness as meaningless. You need to spend less time reading about ecosystems and tinkering with peptides and amino acids. Take a break and spend a whole week just watching old nature videos from the archives.

You talk to some of these motherfuckers, you say "tiger" and they say "efficient predator at the top of its localized food chain in multiple ecosystems." Don't let them take you down such a boring, meaningless road, because that road leads straight to mediocre species and a mediocre career. Ask them what color the tiger was. Ask them about its texture. Most of them won't know. Here's a picture.

Here's another one.

And no, that's not an aquatic breed; it's an Arctic one. Two varieties of the tiger dominated two completely different ecosystems - the tundra and the jungle - and the only difference between the two species was the color of their fur.

I've never even heard of somebody designing something that good. But that's not what matters. You can find a hundred thousand blog posts about how to design a more efficient predator, or how to make an organism portable across ecosystems. Take a look at these pictures again and notice how seamless the blend is. The dark stripes criss-crossing its body follow the same visual rhythm as the shadows on the sandy road. The tropical tiger looks just like the world around it. The Arctic tiger is the same way.

Where do the rocks end and the tigers begin? Even the slope of their backs matches the gentle slope of the hill leading down to the water. Can you do that? Can anyone at your company do that? We have more opportunity to create beauty than anyone in any other field, but everybody knows there's only one company out there that ever even tries. I don't even need to name the company; you know who I mean, and you either think their products are overpriced, or you buy everything they make.

Don't take my advice too literally, either. You might not create anything beautiful if you create a creature that looks like its environment today. We're not all subsisting on algae any more, but the world has a long way to go before it will ever look anything like the paradise our ancestors destroyed.

The point is that a predator is more than just a machine for turning excess herbivore population into fertilizer for the produce those herbivores consume. I understand that government work rarely attracts artists, but we don't just have jobs, we have a responsibility. The work we do will define the environment humanity lives in. Let's set up our children and grandchildren for the kind of natural beauty our entire species used to take for granted.

Rant over.

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