In his book Creative Selection, which I recommend very highly, Ken Kocienda talks about the importance of having software that takes heuristics into account. Much of computer software is algorithmically deduced. But not everything can be initially derived from algorithms. Some things require experimentation, trial and error, heuristic. Some of Ken’s examples:

  • Determining the proper size of icons on the iOS home screen so that they’re consistently tappable.
  • Determining how deep “pinch to zoom” should take you when looking at a photo.
  • Skewing the touch event to be higher than your touch’s placement so you feel like the tip of your finger is what interacted with the screen.

The only way to really get to these decisions is by heuristically using the software and finding what works best, and then extracting an algorithm from your findings. In addition to this, Ken said, “Sometimes we used heuristics to temper algorithms.” As an example, he talked about how they tweaked the auto-correction algorithm on the iOS keyboard to accommodate human behaviors and real-life situations that they hadn’t previously considered.

In contrast to this approach, we gaze upon the newly designed Pearsonified.com website, which continues to make heavy use of the Golden Ratio Typography Calculator and not much else. Chris has said, “I use math—not whimsy—to inform my designs.”1 But whimsy is just a despondent term for heuristic. What Chris is really saying here is this: “I have little patience for heuristic when determining web design.” The Golden Ratio Typography Calculator has always bothered me, frankly, because it tries to remove this essential heuristic ingredient from the equation.2 It blames anyone who comes up with their own typography numbers as “whimsical.”

I’m glad the iPhone wasn’t designed with this dogma. Life’s too short to use software that was built purely by heuristic-barren algorithms. Long live informed whimsy and the liberal arts.


  1. As of about a week ago, this oft-seen maxim at the old site is now only viewable at web.archive.org. Its underpinning ideology is still alive and well at the new site, however. ↩︎
  2. While I’m slaying sacred cows, I’ll go on the record for saying that the results don’t even look that good. The line height is invariably too much. ↩︎