Vintage Language Design

I’ve been having a wonderful time lately, learning about the history of computing and the lesser known (sometimes forgotten) programming languages and paradigms that came along with it. The more I learn and study these different languages, the more i’m starting to appreciate language design as much as I do product design. I see these languages and they instill in me the same feelings that I get when seeing those beautiful vintage product designs of the same era.

Something that’s very obvious to me is how much we’ve lost “good design” for nothing else than beauty’s sake. Now it feels like it all depends on either how cheap a product can be designed and made or how efficient it can be at all costs. While there is also beauty in the latter sometimes, I really miss having things be designed just to look nice, even if it makes it less pratical.

I look at languages like smalltalk, or lisp, and I see a beauty in them akin to the beauty of a 1960s designer toaster or a mid century piece of furniture. There’s something truly elegant and refined about some of these older languages that while they might not have been the most efficient utalitarian language to use for the job, they are a pleasure to use and to at least look at.

I’ve been more and more fascinated with the whole personal computing mindset of that era and the attempts at making soething truly personalized from individual to individual, rather than just have the same piece of gear and OS that all do the exact same thing with some trivial aesthetic changes to “personalize” it.

There is something truly magical about the 50s and 60s. There was so much hope and optimism in the future. Technology started to become mainstream and quality in design was still the most important factor. When you bought a product it lasted for an entire lifetime, and it was yours. You see so much of that influence in the design language of that era both in the actual product design and also in the language design.

Sadly, efficiency and praticality won, and took over the entire industry. While that efficiency and practicality opened many technology doors for all of what we have now, the other side of coding died out and almost no one cared anymore. Everyone converged onto that same path of eficiency and moved away from these “wacky” languages.

I hope that now with the abundance of tech and massive amounts of information available for free to anyone and everyone, more people like me will get interested in these lesser known paths again and explore the alreanate reality of those mindsets. While I doubt any business will pivot from running major corporate language stacks to brainfuck, I encourage everyone to explore those languages as a creative meduim for express themselves and expand their minds.

P.S. I’m only just starting this journey, and I still have much much much to learn about it. Let’s say I might just be inthe honeymoon phase, but if nothing else, learning about all of these things has rejuvinated my love for all things programming and computing.