Bret Victors "Inventing on principle" – and a few things it inspired

Bret Victor‘s “Inventing on principle” talk (also available on YouTube in case you want to skip ahead) from this year’s CUSEC is one of these hours of your life where you watch something and go “wow”:

Video on Vimeo.

Bret talks about having a principle to follow when inventing new things. A principle that guides you in your decisions instead of concentrating on the product you want to build. He is not the first to do that and he mentions a few other people in the talk who took the same approach and got very successful with it.

Bret’s big principle is that “creators need an immediate connection to what they create” and shows that right now in most cases this connection is broken. We write code, we compile, we load in a browser and we see the result. That is not immediate but a two steps removed way of creating. The same way we make animations. We create timelines, set keyframes and change values and see if it worked or not. In the talk Bret shows a few demos for tools that would break those steps down to immediacy – you code and see what you do at the same time. Much like the thing WYSIWYG editing promised us in the past but on a more creative level. Bret shows games that are created whilst playing them, how changing values in an interactive manner makes it possible for you to find different effects and even how to write algorithms simpler by having a tool that asks for values of variables you define while you code them.

This video has been making the rounds quite a lot and it is very cool to see that whilst not finding their own guiding principle, some developers got so excited they started implementing Bret’s ideas.

Frogatto and Friends for example is a game that has an editor that allows you to play the game and create levels at the same time.

Cedric Vivier of the Mozilla Devtools team also took a leaf out of Bret’s book and created the Live Scratchpad extension for Firefox which makes it easy to write code much more immediate than how we do it now.

Video on Vimeo.

We are only just scratching the surface of what can be done with computers. Modern technologies and new ways of interacting with machines can make it much easier for people to be creative. We just need to think past our own experiences and start imagining what could come if we just allow it to.

About Chris Heilmann

Evangelist for HTML5 and open web. Let's fix this!

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  1. Chris

    Here’s an IDE inspired by Bret’s talk:—a-new-ide-concept/

    April 20th, 2012 at 06:21

  2. K.M. Hurley

    This would be great for screenwriting software too – if as you wrote a scene you could press a button and see two characters act it out. There’s a software that sort of does this (called Paranormal x or something) but a dedicated package more responsive to your descriptions would be awesome.

    April 20th, 2012 at 06:38

  3. Brandon Benvie

    This is the same concept that motivated me to make While not quite as spiffy as his example, the idea is the same. To be able to see the results of what you’re doing as you do them. More generally, the idea of your code editor/IDE being a living environment rather than just a way to enter text and click buttons. Making the editor an extension of the programs you write and the language you write in.

    April 22nd, 2012 at 12:29

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