An IBM design legend on the power of simplified thinking.

August 23, 2010 — Leave a comment

Whether you’re trying to write a brief – or an operating system – clear thinking and simple objectives are pretty much all you need, the rest gets figured out as you go along. Wired magazine has just published a short yet brilliant interview with University of North Carolina computer scientist and author Fred Brooks who not only designed IBM’s first successful mainframe but also coined what became known as Brooks’ Law: the flawed assumption that more manpower meant predictably faster progress.

In the interview, he shares some great perspective on how things get designed, but may favourite has to be this one:   “The critical thing about the design process is to identify your scarcest resource. Despite what you may think, that very often is not money. For example, in a NASA moon shot, money is abundant but lightness is scarce; every ounce of weight requires tons of material below. On the design of a beach vacation home, the limitation may be your ocean-front footage. You have to make sure your whole team understands what scarce resource you’re optimizing.”

It’s a great way of thinking about a problem and if we apply it to brief-writing for marketing, we’d have to admit that the scarcest resource we have is the audience’s attention.

Among Brook’s other advice: live prototyping; examining failures more closely than successes; and (perhaps surprisingly) judicious use of silos – something he refers to as “encapsulation”.

After just a little taste, I’m loving the way Fred Brooks thinks and now I’m on the hunt for his books The Mythical Man-Month and the just-released The Design of Design.

Check the Wired Interview here.

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