Personal Design Software?
July 11, 2009 6:00 PM   Subscribe

Computer-aided design using Christopher Alexander's Notes on the Synthesis of Form?

So I just finished reading the book, which was published in 1964. I want to use the method described therein, and he even talks about a (now very outdated) way to implement it on a computer. I can't find any software online that seems to do anything vaguely like this. I was hoping there was something dead simple out there, like OmniFocus-esque simple. (I want to design really qualitative things like lifestyle and a business.) I'm doing Google searches for:

computer-aided problem solving
functional decomposition software
computer-aided functional decomposition
notes on the synthesis of form problem solving
notes on the synthesis of form software

Nothing seems to be coming up. I feel like the process could be super automated, as in 1) define the nodes and links, and then 2) it will do the decomposition for you. But I've got nothing.

40+ years later, is this style of problem-solving called something different, and I'm not using the right search keywords? What does the business world call this? There must be a software package.

Do I have to write my own software? I think I could hack something together, including even nice visual graphs, with existing libraries, but it would take hours to weeks. Thanks in advance.

Notes: I don't think a mind-mapper, Flying Logic, Tinderbox, or any sort of relatively static layout tool will work. I want the software to take the graph structure I define and actively transform it. There are software libraries that do these sorts of things, but I can't seem to find anything that puts it all together in a user-friendly package.
posted by zeek321 to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Can you describe what Alexander's method is about? You might then get better help. (I do have read some of his books, but not this one.)
posted by oxit at 11:27 AM on July 12, 2009

Response by poster: Here's a quick summary:

1. Break down a problem into requirements. Be as specific and relevant as possible, and try to break them out so they all have more or less equal "weight." There might be 100 or more of these.
2. Figure out the links between them, positive or negative. (Improving one requirement makes another worse (or better) and so forth, but +/- doesn't matter, just that you know what's connected and what isn't.) Note that for 100 requirements, there are many hundreds of unique ways a specific problem could link up, in all sorts of weird, apples and oranges sorts of ways.
3. Use a cool algorithm to break the problem into minimally connected subsets, so you can mess with sub-problems without fearing your local solution will screw things up globally. (This is supposed to be automated, based on the link analysis in part (2). Otherwise, our linguistic and cognitive categories get in the way when we try to decompose the problem by hand.)
4. Solve the subsets and put your problem back together. Done and done.

That's it!
posted by zeek321 at 6:36 PM on July 12, 2009

I'm still not entirely sure, whether this is what you are talking about, but there are many applications that help with this. What I'm unsure about is whether there's one piece of software that does it all.
Generally, cause and effect software should be able to help and I remember a software that could create linked models and then even simulate outcomes -- problem being I cannot find it anymore. In general these are quite specific applications.
So no good news, sorry, but a "keep looking, it must be there".
posted by oxit at 11:20 AM on July 13, 2009

Response by poster: "keep looking, it must be there"

That's my feeling, too. Anyway, thanks for following up.
posted by zeek321 at 5:19 PM on July 13, 2009

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