Reading Response #1
to Artful Design • Chapter 1: “Design Is ______”

Brendan Larkin | 2019.9.26
Music 256A / CS476a, Stanford University Fall 2019

Reading Response: Addition and Subtraction

Reflecting on Principles 1.9 and 1.10 from: Artful Design , which state:
    “Design is Addition” and “Design is Subtraction”

When reading this section of the chapter, this Einstein quote sprang to mind: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler.” Those words are commonly attributed to Albert Einstein, but I wondered if he actually said it. According to the website ChampioningScience, the quote everyone knows is most likely a paraphrase from a New York Times journalist, and Einstein’s words were, ironically, much more verbose and complicated. (See )

I love this contrast of complexity and simplicity, of creating and removing stuff until the end product can be made no simpler, without sacrificing any of its intended function. On a personal level, these addition and subtraction concepts resonated with the way I see the world through my faith. The idea of design as an additive or creative endeavor makes total sense to me, and I would even use the words design and creation to define each other. I think design is the process of creation. From a faith perspective, humans all have an innate capacity and desire to create, which confirms that we were made in the image of God, who is the master creator. I find it fascinating to contemplate how design could be tapping into our sense of the divine.

The subtractive elements of design are also evident to me in the natural world. I think of flowers and how they efficiently generate energy with photosynthesis, and their vibrant colors attract insects for pollination. They have exactly what they need to live and reproduce, yet they are also beautiful. I see beauty both in the elegant chemical reactions that keep the plant alive, and in the visual characteristics that make people paint pictures and take photographs of them. This screams great design to me, and the more I learn about the natural world in biology, physics, and math, the more I see blatant evidence of design. The phrase “God is in the details” spoke to me, as I feel a sense of awe when I think about the intricacies of the human body or the simplicity of a flower.

Design Etude: Taking Notice

Thing #1: Guitar

My guitar was one of the first things I thought of that beautifully blends together form and function. Even the name by itself is beautiful to me: it’s called the Silver Sky. It makes me feel like anything is possible, as if this guitar is the mechanism that’s going to help me fly. Its function is to allow me to play whatever comes to my mind, and channel all the modes of the vibrating strings into electricity. Some features that help it accomplish this goal are a sturdy build quality, which means it will stay in tune better and be able to hold up through many performances and trips in the car. Good quality wood and solid construction also makes it just feel nice to hold and inspires confidence that I can push it to its limit. Another feature that has both aesthetic and functional value is the cutaway in the body near the higher frets. This guitar is meant to look and play similar to a Fender Strat, but this scoop out of the body is a marked difference in shape that makes the Silver Sky look unique. Its functional value is that there is more room for a left hand to access those high frets and play without having to twist the wrist in funky ways. Finally, I love the birds as fret markers because they go above and beyond what is functionally necessary and make the guitar look more like art.

Thing #2: Bike

I love my bike. In terms of form following function, it is a masterpiece. Its mission is to be the fastest human-powered thing on the road, and along the way it manages to be beautiful, striking, even intimidating. It is a tool that always asks me to push the limit of what my body can do, and every time I put the hammer down, its response is instantaneous and furious. Almost every component of this machine is beautiful and useful, but I’ll focus on a couple. First, the brakes are seamlessly integrated into the frame of the bike, which makes them very aerodynamic, but also adds a sense of unity to the frame that I find visually appealing. The brakes also just look cool and spaceship-like up close. Lastly, the frame has a very interesting curvy shape near the seat post. Trek calls this the “Iso-Speed Decoupler,” which sounds fancy, and it is designed to isolate the rest of the frame from road vibrations coming from the back wheel. This serves a double function of making the ride more comfortable (compared to other similar bikes…), and amazingly it also makes the bike faster! To me that is a win-win-win feature that makes this thing really cool and really fast.

Thing #3: Bird

I mentioned earlier how I see great design in the natural world. The other day, I contemplated a bird I saw as I was walking to class. The smoothness of its body stood out to me as it was scampering along the ground looking for seeds. With its wings folded, it was very compact, which I suppose is useful to keep dry when it rains or keep its core warm in the winter. Aesthetically, I think smoothness is a common element of beauty, so I liked the cohesiveness of the bird’s shape. Its ability to quickly raise its wings and fly away also struck me as great design. Flying of course has great function for transportation, but the way a bird can do it so naturally is poetic in a way, especially considering how much engineering it took humans to develop airplanes. I also considered the bird’s songs. They are probably functional for communication, but they also are melodic and (usually) create a sense of peace wherever they’re heard.

Guerrilla Design: Composing in the car

To the tune of “Sweet Annie” by Zac Brown Band

I’ve been driving you a while
Rolling hills that go for miles warm my heart
Sweetheart, keep me far from the 101

But one day traffic will come
And my car someday won’t run,
But don’t give up on me,

ChucK Program
Here it is:

Bonus : Origin of Dubstep