programming in the
twenty-first century

It's not about technology for its own sake. It's about being able to implement your ideas.

If You're Not Gonna Use It, Why Are You Building It?

Just about every image editing or photo editing program I've tried has a big collection of visual filters. There's one to make an image look like a mosaic, one to make it look like watercolors, and so on. Except for few of the most fundamental image adjustments, like saturation and sharpness, I never use any of them.

I have this suspicion that the programmers of these tools got hold of some image processing textbooks and implemented everything in them. If an algorithm had any tweakable parameters, then those were exposed to the user as sliders.

Honestly, that sounds like something I might have done in the past. The process of implementing those filters is purely technical--almost mechanical--yet it makes the feature list longer and more impressive. And they could be fun to code up. But no consideration is given to if those filters have any practical value.

Contrast this with apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic. Those programs use your phone's camera to grab images, then apply built-in filters to them. They're fully automatic; you can't make any manual adjustments. And yet unlike all of those filter-laden photo editors I've used in the past, I'm completely hooked on Hipstamatic. It rekindled my interest in photography, and I can't thank the authors enough.

What's the difference between those apps and old-fashioned photo editors?

The Hipstamatic and Instagram filters were designed with clear goals in mind: to emulate certain retro-camera aesthetics, to serve as starting points and inspirations for photographs. Or more succinctly: they were built to be used.

If you find yourself creating something, and you don't understand how it will be used, and you don't plan on using it yourself, then it's time to take a few steps back and reevaluate what you're doing.

(If you liked this, you might like Advice to Aimless, Excited Programmers.)

permalink March 26, 2011



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I'm James Hague, a recovering programmer who has been designing video games since the 1980s. Programming Without Being Obsessed With Programming and Organizational Skills Beat Algorithmic Wizardry are good starting points. For the older stuff, try the 2012 Retrospective.

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