Strongly Emergent

What comes from combining humans, computers, and narrative

Negative 100 Points

A short post by Eric Gunnerson about designing C#, nearly a decade old now, has stuck with me for a long time.

[the question] implies that we started with an existing language (C++ and Java are the popular choices here), and then started removing features until we got to a point where we liked. That’s not how the language got designed. One of the big reasons we didn’t do this is that it’s really hard to remove complexity when you take a subtractive approach, as removing a feature in one area may not allow you to revisit low-level design decisions, nor will it allow you to remove complexity elsewhere, in places where it support the now-removed feature. We decided on the additive approach instead, and worked hard to keep the complexity down. One way to do that is through the concept of “minus 100 points.” Every feature starts out in the hole by 100 points, which means that it has to have a significant net positive effect on the overall package for it to make it into the language. Some features are okay features for a language to have, they just aren’t quite good enough to make it into the language.

If this sounds familiar, it should: this is another lens on the design philosophy, popularized in the developer community by Apple, that good design requires saying “no.” Saying “no” a lot. I applaud Apple for applying this philosophy so rigorously— but it’s important to remember that they’re not the only people who use it, and their way is not the only way. What you say “no” to, defines you.