Interface development and shadow sculptures – essentially the same thing

I think I learned something today! As a non-software engineer, I was always puzzled beyond measure when I asked our developers to change just a minor interface detail – such as, “shift this icon up a few pixels, change the color of this frame” – and was told that this would take days upon days of work.

Today, Rob explained to me what the reason was. An interface element that you see on the screen, e.g. a toolbar, might look like it’s drawn up from a single, coherent piece of code. In reality, though, it could be cobbled together in the background from many different parts of the code that don’t have anything to do with each other. Thus, changing one pixel on the screen could require a rewrite of two huge portions of code to make them fit together.

So I said, “ah – now I get it. It’s like shadow sculptures!”. If you look at this picture, I think you’ll understand my point:

Shadow sculpture by Tim Noble and Sue Webster

If you’re a software engineer, of course this is old news. But I found it an interesting analogy! Nevertheless, as Mike pointed out in the previous post, our upcoming release (beta 0.6.0) has absolutely shiny, beautiful, well-structured code under its hood when you shine a light on it!

2 thoughts on “Interface development and shadow sculptures – essentially the same thing

  1. Not sure how they develop where you are but moving an icon on a web page should be as easy as changing a CSS file, a matter of seconds and very easy to do.

  2. Sure – you’re right about the webpage. I should have been more specific. The icon example was from our Mendeley Desktop software development, which happens in Qt/C++ and has to be standards-compliant across three different platforms (Win, Mac, Linux).

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