2018/03/09 Evolving Pattern Language towards an Affordance Language

Submitted by daviding on Tue, 05/08/2018 - 21:30


David Ing


Pattern language has its origins from architects of built physical environments. The approach was cross-appropriated into software development methods at the rise of object-oriented design, and was influential in the emerging styles with agile practices. The idea has been extended into social change. Are the philosophical foundations from the 1960s-1970s appropriate for the 21st century era of service science, and innovations in augmented intelligence?

The communities of interest on pattern language are coming together (i.e. PLoP and PUARL-Purplsoc are colocating in Portland, OR, in October 2018), coming from three historical subgroups.

The PUARL subgroup is led by former students of Christopher Alexander from the Center for Environmental Structure at Berkeley in the 1970s. They continue to work on "towns, buildings and construction", with recent interests in large scale incidents (e.g. tsunami preparation and recovery) and human geography (e.g. refugees and migration).

The PLoP subgroup is steered by the Hillside Group that formed coincidentally with the release of 1994 Design Patterns (Gamma, Vlissides, Johnson, Helm) book. They have often colocated with ACM OOPSLA/SPLASH with collaborative sessions following writer's workshop techniques, and have associated chapters around the world (e.g. EuroPLoP, AsianPLoP, ScrumPLoP).

The Purplsoc subgroup was founded in 2014 in Austria, and alternates conference years with PUARL. The emphasis on social change draws broad participation from practitioners in policy-setting and organizational change, bringing novices up the learning curve.

Pattern language was central to the IBM Global Services Method in the mid 1990s, practitioners tools (i.e. Open Unified Process and the Eclipse Process Framework Composer) and the Architects' Workbench project at IBM Research Yorktown in the early 2000s. The organizational memory on these initiatives has mostly been lost to the millennial generation, and pattern language is typically a peripheral concept to students today in computer science programs at leading universities.

Using a pattern language approach with service systems has called for a re-examination of some foundational presumptions (e.g. is the quality in the thing, or is the quality in the interaction with the thing). One direction proposed is an affordance language, based in the ecological psychology of J. J. Gibson, the ecological epistemology of Gregory Bateson, and the ecological anthropology of Tim Ingold.

David Ing will give an introductory talk on the history and prospective directions for these ideas. He is visiting IBM Research Almaden May 8 to 16, 2018.


David Ing, "Evolving Pattern Language towards an Affordance Language", IBM Research Almaden, San Jose, California, May 9, 2018.