A little while ago, someone found Graham Stafford from Design Design standing in the middle of the office, looking thirsty. Sorting through the rupees and coat buttons that some disreputable person has been putting into the tea kitty, we found enough money to cover a pint of Old Flatulence with which to slake Graham’s thirst.
Off we trotted to a local hostelry, and by the time we left, we’d arranged to receive the lowdown on the development of Des-Des’s latest programming extravaganza. Straight from Graham’s word processor, in instalments.
Herewith Part The First... in which we meet the Design Design team, and take a peek at their natural habitat.
Design-Design! (‘Who?’, shout millions of people across the country.) Design-Design, I say. Possibly the greatest software house of all time, and the most modest! For those of you who didn’t shout ‘Who?’, ‘What!’ may be more appropriate. Well we’re a bunch of mad-living loonies from Manchester, with an impressive collection of motoring offences! We also happen to write some of the best software on the market. Our programmers, whilst bordering on the psychotic, do at least know what they’re doing.
Many people have wondered and asked about the conditions and environment taken to produce a Design-Design programmer. Take Wook for example, Master of the 6809 and the pint glass. His day starts when he staggers down to the kitchen in search of the traditional morning mug of coffee & cig. Well I say morning, Wook works on a 36 hour cycle as opposed to everyone else’s 24, so this can be any hour of the day or night. He then works until the pubs are open, drinks until they close, comes home and falls down the stairs. If any of you’ve got a copy of Dark Star with a cracked case, it’s probably one of the 200 he landed on one night!
Whilst sobering up, he works until falling asleep programming or poking about in the depths of his multi-user multi-tasking OS-9 system. If any of you budding 6809 programmers out there ever meet Wook at a trade fair, take a word of advice and never mention the other 6809 operating system, FLEX; at least not if you wish to con a drink out of him!
Graham (Nose city) Stafford, on the other hand is far more suave and sophisticated (SMUG). Clean living, engaged, and up bright and early at 2.00pm every day, Graham is the epitome of the ideal programmer. Works regular hours, cheap to feed, understands the meaning of the word DEADLINE and even takes his computer with him when visiting his fiancee at weekends. What more can you say about such a perfect representative of this industry except isn’t it time he thought of taking up macrame?
Who’s next? Ah yes, the prime of our little clutch, Mr. Brattel, given his formal address in keeping with the general ‘Man About Town’ image that he projects. Always cool and calm in a crisis, he is the only guy I know to drive a car over a cliff and climb out muttering ‘Eer, I think we’ve done it this time Psi!’. He thought the whole incident hysterically funny until the thought ‘What’s Graham going to say?’ occurred to him. Practically the only thing that can provoke a violent reaction from the illustrious Mr Brattel is uncooperative hardware. There are several battered Spectrums littered around the house to testify to this. Outside of programming, Simon builds things. The list is almost endless, his own computers, audio power-amps, things to put in Beebs that make them belch, an endless series of pre-amps and things to interfere with Wook’s radio equipment. Wook, by the way, is a practising radio amateur, and target for many radio-orientated practical jokes.
Well there you have it, three totally different people who go to make up the Design-Design in-house programming team. Still, enough of the individuals and on to how this rather unusual team functions. No one program is written by two or more of the programmers, rather each one works on his own project. Work usually starts at some arbitrary point in the afternoon, after which the house reverberates to the sound of programmers stampeding up and down the stairs, searching for coffee, bursting in to each other’s rooms for advice/help and venting their opinions on the latest LPs or CDs they’ve bought. (Graham: Nik Kershaw, The Riddle. Wook: Bob Marley Three Little Birds, Dub & interminably extended 12' version. Simon (Cliff, wot cliff?) Brattel: Sting, The Dream of the Blue Turtles).
During this complex interplay of personalities, ideas and opinions, the work of each of the three becomes subtly influenced by the other two. The upshot of this is that each program, though the work of one programmer, inherits that indefinable something that marks it as a Design-Design product.
There are a few, not instantly obvious, advantages to working in the hours of darkness. We live on a fairly major B-road, so the absence of traffic noise at night is most welcome. Also, Graham finds it disturbing to glance out of his first floor window to find those on the top deck of a GMT bus gapeing at him from eight feet away. Some people have fairies at the bottom of their gardens; we have a bus stop! Simon too, is happy with the nocturnal existence; here is a man who hates to be hot, or even warm, thus the absence of solar radiation adding to the heat dumped by his computer gear is most welcome. Wook on the other hand, defines day as when he’s awake, and night as when he’s not. I’m not convinced he realises that there is a relationship between light, dark and the hands on his watch!
Admittedly, one cannot just pop round the corner for the occasional bottle of coke, but there is a 24 hour petrol station up the road for such things. As everyone is usually in bed by 9.00am, Dave is left unsupervised in the office of an hour or so until Johnny arrives circa 10.00am. This is a cause of great concern, as nobody seems to know what he does in this hour. There is a theory that he gets the milk in, but this is unproven at the time of writing.
Enough of this work rubbish, what do people do in their free time? Well there’s the obvious answer: The PUB. One advantage of living where we do is that the Junction Inn is a mere 200 yards from the front door, so nobody has to drive. As to other extra-curricular activities, these are as diverse as the programmers. Johnny, Myself and Simon all own lasers, and Johnny is developing a healthy interest in holography. Simon and I are more interested in sound to light units and the possibilities of drawing things on the ceiling at trade fairs. It’s also good fun waving lasers at people leaving the pub. Water pistols and sunroofs provide good entertainment in the summer months too (see SPECTACLE for details).
Then there’s the traditional Black Rock Sands Expedition. This involves everyone piling into the cars and belting off to the west coast of Wales, for a day of sun, sand; beach racing and sitting in traffic jams with all the other tourists. There’s the endless series of totally useless electronic gadgets people build, flashing lights, strange noise producers and even a six foot long VU meter, built by Johnny for no readily explainable reason. Wook builds all his own radio gear, a task which takes up a fair amount of his time, but does produce some nice end products. This has sparked off many rows of the ‘Your computer is interfering with my radio’ / ‘Your radio is coming over my hi-fi’ type. I, however, am the proud owner of an amplifier which annoys Wook’s radios. Having said that, Wook has recently swiped it on the pretext of curing the problem. I have been awaiting its return for a considerable number of days...
So there you are, a brief insight into our life style. It may be a trifle unconventional, but aside from the odd dispute over washing up and whose turn it is to make the coffee it is a great way to live. In closing I shall leave you with a quotation from Simon, which in some ways says more than I could if Crash gave me 50 pages. (Think about it Graeme, a SPECTACLE in your mag!).
‘I look upon Design-Design as a viable commune’ — S. Brattel.