Good Design is Timeless

There are no absolutes in good architectural design. Personal taste differs from one individual to another. Some like simple austere forms, modernist and functional, and some like exuberant decoration, from the gothic to art nouveau. Some like both, as I do, preference depending on the day and my mood.

But when it comes to software design decoration has no place. Simplicity, elegant or not, is the most fundamental design principle, in combination with readability. There should be no more moving parts than are necessary (which paraphrases 14th Century William of Ockham’s Law of Parsimony), but it’s equally important that function should not be obscured by the reduction of code to its logical minimum. ‘Clever’ code is dangerous if it doesn’t easily reveal its purpose.

So good software design is more like functionalist/modernist design than any other, simple and easy to navigate, and good functional design is timeless.

Take the Bata House in Wenceslas Square in Prague, built in the late 1920s. It became the model for thousands of shops and department stores, and if you look at it today it looks as new and fresh and perfect as it ever did. You would not think it is nearly one hundred years old.


And take Roma Termini, the main railway station in Rome. I remember arriving in Rome in the mid 1960s, after a long journey over sea and land from Victoria Station in London. The brilliant white walls were dazzling in the Italian summer sun, and the station was visible from miles away as we crawled to a full stop several hours late. It made an impression on me then, and it still impresses. Look at how well this cluttered hall is designed, how simple and light the long glass panel looks, not actually supporting the cantilevered roof. Perfect.

roma termini

The same aesthetic is ‘visible’ in software, and particularly in the financial package we sell – SunSystems. Its principles haven’t changed in 25 years. It’s simple, elegant, easy to understand, powerful and functionally fit for purpose.

William of Ockham would have loved all three of these artefacts.

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