Experience with Pattern Languages

Introduction to Notes on the Synthesis of Form
Introduced to Christopher Alexander's work in 1969 through Notes on the Synthesis of Form at the Kansas City Art Institute, Mr. Swift became an early supporter of the design paradigm. Applying the process to an office systems project, he worked with Chuck Owen at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Institute of Design, who has pioneered and since extended the paradigm in the field of industrial design as Structured Planning.
Introduction to the Pattern Language
At the California Institute of the Arts in 1970 Mr. Swift attended a workshop taught by Denny Abrams of the Center for Environmental Structure, Alexander's organization in Berkeley where the Pattern Language was in early stages of development. This workshop involved the use of experimental patterns for housing, and Gary contributed a pattern named Morning Light similar to the pattern Sleeping to the East published in A Pattern Language seven years later.
Application to
Systems Design
By this time Mr. Swift had a thoroughly developed advocacy for systems design, drawing from his experience in industrial design, graphics, architecture, environmental and social design. Essentially this was a marriage of the systems sciences (notably general system theory and cybernetics) for analysis and the creative problem solving techniques of designers for synthesis, applied to complex systems problems.
Teaching Experience
After receiving his MFA in 1972 from the School of Design at Cal Arts, owing to the success of his course in Design Methodology, he was asked to return as an instructor. Here he extended his work through various courses related to systems design, including Design Theory and Methodology, Bionics, Pattern Language, Futures Forecasting, General System Theory and a project-oriented Systems Design Studio.

Pattern Languages played a central role in the Systems Design Studio courses which included an introduction to Alexander's theoretical work and the Pattern Language. For example, one project was a model preventive health care system for a community of 10,000 people. This resulted in patterns for information campaigns such as health care kiosks at bus stops, a community health care center, muscle-powered vehicles, and environmental solutions such as a network of green strips separate from the street grid. Most importantly, the course emphasized how all of these fit together as a system.

Another project called Ecopatterns sought to apply the Pattern Language to ecological problems - the meta-environment, so to speak. Students were basically told to "design garbage", because "everything you do will be garbage eventually, so think about it." Patterns included solutions that were a decade or more ahead of their time, for example, identifying codes on plastics, community compost heaps, and modular bins to prevent mixing materials, making recycling more economical. A similar project dealt with water conservation, resulting in patterns like Downstream Water Volume, which specified returning water shunted into the water supply back to the source.
After a 15-year career in UNIX software development which focused on engineering process issues, Mr. Swift has turned his attention to what he calls "the extreme front end".
"In the field of software design there is a lot of good engineering, but software is plagued by a plethora of classic design problems. While many companies are claiming to have user interface or interaction designers on staff, typically they are brought in to tune the cosmetics after it's too late to fix the product. Design has to come first not last. You have to consider the product as a whole, for everyone who has to deal with it, and throughout it's entire life cycle. What many miss is that the system is the interface."
To address better software design, Mr. Swift is once again applying the Pattern Language to complex systems problems, in this case a work called Cyberpatterns.