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Scientific Software Design: Human Working Memory

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Good design must be measurable

Good software design should be scientific, universal, and measurable. Saying “this code is good”, or “this code is crap” is useless if we cannot even agree on what is good design.

Design philosophies like “Single Responsibility Principle” can’t be objectively measured. The programmer must interpret if the code they are reading actually adheres to the pattern. Such an interpretation is subject to biases and confusion.

As much as we may joke to the contrary, modern programming languages are designed to allow humans to express our ideas to other humans. We should adopt design philosophies that best supplement human cognition.

Example: Human Working Memory

For example, Miller’s law cites that the average human working memory can only maintain approximately seven chunks of data at a time. Using this, we could determine a scientific design principle: “no more than seven variables in scope.”

No more than seven variables in scope

This simple design philosophy is grounded in human cognition and is empirically measurable by programmers and machines.

steve shogren

software developer, manager, author, speaker


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