Make Wrong Things Look Wrong

Thoughts on "Making Wrong Code Look Wrong" by Joel Spolsky.

I've found this article useful in meatspace. No surprise as it begins with a description of this rule in the real world, an industrial bakery (breadspace). I think about this rule when I clean my home, especially my kitchen. I want my kitchen to invite me to cook efficient, healthy meals, and I need it to convey that readiness at a glance. So I practice seeing what looks wrong.

I love that the title is in the negative. Joel's not going to tell us what right looks like, and he doesn't claim to know. Instead, we can use our pattern matching capability, the same exact brain tools which we'd use to spot a lion camouflaged in a wheat field, to spot when something is out of place.

Any definition of correctness is going to narrow the playing field and lessen the fun of creative generation. As Christopher Alexander puts it in "The Timeless Way of Building," we create greatness with a million tiny creative acts, not one fell swoop. When I read Joel's article, and the many times I've reread it, I always walked away with the feeling that I had gained a powerful, invaluable tool to assess my own work and to empower my next choice to be more creative and weird.

When I sense something is out of place, it can be irksome. That feeling of "something's off" can drive me to energetic fixing. It can also bounce off me like a ping pong ball. If everything looks wrong, it's more likely to be a shower of ping pong balls. So the goal is to make not-wrong things look not-wrong, so that the smaller set of wrong things stick out and patiently await fixing.


Mon Dec 25 06:56:00 PM PST 2023

Some thoughts. This article's been rummaging around in my head for at least a decade.