Learning from Frank Gehry’s Sketches

Learn about the history of sketches being used for APIs.

API sketches

Now, it’s time to turn the artifacts into a working API by converting our design into implementation. Along the way, we’ll learn how to create quick API sketches, how to make a prototype of our API, and how to convert our sketches and prototypes into running Node.js code. At each step of the journey, we’ll refine our implementation plans through our sketches and prototypes.

Sketching and prototyping is a way to test ideas. We can create low-fidelity samples that we can show others and make adjustments and improvements all without having to write a lot of code. We prefer using sketches and prototypes because we can learn from early mistakes without doing a lot of tedious coding and debugging.

When we start work on translating our API design into working code, we always like to start with small, simple examples that we can put together in just a few minutes. This helps us work out just how we’ll convert the design into an API without getting too wrapped up in editing code, loading libraries, and all the other details that are needed for real running code.

History of Frank Gehry’s sketches

There’s a lot of information on the use of time-saving sketches in a talk by Ronnie Mitra called The Art of Effective API Design. In this talk, Mitra introduced us to the way celebrated architect Frank Gehry uses sketches to test out his design ideas for physical buildings. For Gehry, sketches are a way to quickly work out possibilities and test ideas long before he tries to actually build the building. As Gehry puts it, “As soon as I understand the scale of the building and the relationship to the site and the relationship to the client, as it becomes more and more clear to me, I start doing sketches.”

Sketches of Frank Gehry: Gehry’s sketches have become a source of artistic interest all by themselves. You can learn more about Gehry and his amazing drawings from the 2006 documentary, Sketches of Frank Gehry.

We won’t be able to include a Gehry sketch in this course, but we can find them online. Instead, we’ll see an original sketch. For example, suppose we need to add an entryway to our new country home that transitions visitors from the small garden area in front of the house onto an inviting porch area that leads to a large front door. There are lots of possible ways to do this. We could use small trees along an open walkway, a long narrow hall leading to the door, or maybe an ornate marble entry to impress our visitors. The image below shows some example sketches of these ideas.

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