Experience with Pattern Languages
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
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.
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.
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
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
Another project called
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
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