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The C# Design Process
A Conversation with Anders Hejlsberg, Part I
by Bill Venners with Bruce Eckel
August 4, 2003

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Usability Studies versus Aesthetics

Bill Venners: How much of the design of C# was based on usability research, how much on marketing choices, and how much on aesthetics?

Anders Hejlsberg: Ultimately, good language design boils down to assembling a team of people who have good taste. It boils down to programming aesthetics, as you are saying. Good taste is extremely subjective and hard to define, but you can sort of recognize it when you see it. And I don't think any number of usability studies can give you what taste gives you, because usability studies tend to be very vertical. A study might ask, "What do you think of this particular feature?" But it's not easy to ask, "What do you think of this language?" Where would you begin? How can you possibly attack that in a two hour usability study? It's just impossible.

Bruce Eckel: Somebody has to have depth of understanding.

Anders Hejlsberg: Working with a programming language is a much more immersive process. People don't really come to appreciate a programming language until they've worked with it for months. And then they may gradually realize, "Wow, this is really comfortable." You just can't do that very quickly.

That being said, we did a bunch of usability studies, but they were more vertically targeted on particular features.

Bill Venners: For example?

Anders Hejlsberg: Most of it was actually usability studies of IDE features. We might ask, "Can people understand that they right click to do this or that?" We did some usability studies for the pure language syntax itself—I think we did some with properties and events, for example—but it was not necessary really.

I don't think that you get as high a yield from usability studies for language features as for IDE features. IDEs are very interactive. You can watch users right click menu items and get good feedback. For programming languages, the question is more, "Is it conceptually understandable?" That's done very well by having a customer advisory councils, sounding boards. You want places where you can say, "Here's what we're thinking about doing for this particular new feature. What do you all think?" And you actually urge them to shoot as many holes in it as possible, because you'd much rather know before you put in the feature than after. So unless a language feature is a complete slam dunk, we tend to make use of those kinds of sounding boards.

Next Week

Come back Monday, August 11 for part VI of a conversation with Elliotte Rusty Harold about the design of the XOM API. I am now staggering the publication of several interviews at once, to give the reader variety. The next installment of this interview with Anders Hejlsberg will appear on Monday, August 18. If you'd like to receive a brief weekly email announcing new articles at, please subscribe to the Artima Newsletter.

Talk Back!

Have an opinion about the design principles presented in this article? Discuss this article in the News & Ideas Forum topic, The C# Design Process.


Deep Inside C#: An Interview with Microsoft Chief Architect Anders Hejlsberg:

A Comparative Overview of C#:

Microsoft Visual C#:

Anders Hejlsberg was not the first Artima interviewee to mention taste. Jim Waldo made almost an identical comment about building a team of tasteful programmers in his interview:

And an entire portion of Ken Arnold's interview was devoted to design taste - Taste and Aesthetics:

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