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The Design of Design: Exemplars in Design

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Few designs are all-new. Usually, even novel designs derive from earlier artifacts intended for similar purposes and built with similar technology. What then is the proper role of exemplars, precedents, in design? How should the designer study and use them? Should each design domain develop an accessible cumulative store of exemplars? Frederick P. Brooks considers these questions in this excerpt from his book, The Design of Design.
This chapter is from the book

. . . [T]he vast field of possibility can only be searched if you have some idea in advance of what you are looking for. Without prestructures of some kind, you cannot know where to look, or whether you have found what you are looking for. This again seems to justify architects in bringing past solutions and notions of style to bear on the search . . .

BILL HILLIER AND ALAN PENN [1995], “CAN THERE BE A DOMAIN-INDEPENDENT THEORY OF DESIGN?”

Pages from a Palestrina Mass copy in Bach’s own hand
Staatsbibliothek of Berlin

Few Designs Are All-New

But These Surely Are Fun! Rarely does one get to do a design that is entirely new. Imagine designing the first Earth-orbiting satellite, the first portable telephone, the first WIMP interface, the first air terminal, the first supercomputer!

The Common Lot. Usually, however, even novel designs derive from earlier artifacts intended for similar purposes and built with similar technology. The designer himself may have designed an earlier work; if not, he surely has seen, studied, and perhaps used some.

What then is the proper role of exemplars, precedents, in design? How should the designer study and use them? Should each design domain develop an accessible cumulative store of exemplars? How? Who?

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