On the Methodology of Design for Electronic Systems

Professor Edward A. Lee
Dept. of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
UC Berkeley

Thursday, February 13th, 1997
Hogan Room, 531 Cory Hall
5:00-6:00 p.m.


Design is a creative process. It cannot be systematized or automated. "Design automation," taken literally, belittles the human creativity in the process. "Design technology" and "computer-aided design" are far better terms. The objective is to increase the effectiveness of human talents by mechanizing the mundane and liberating inventiveness. The right "tools" (this is exactly the right word) can help the designer to manage complexity, but these tools also bias the creative process. Creativity occurs within the framework of the tools, so ideally this framework should not only manage the design data but also stimulate the imagination.

Design tools create an artificial universe within which designs evolve. For electronic systems, design tools distance the designer from the physical constraints of the underlying hardware and present instead a formal abstract world. Such an abstract world will have, for instance, its own notion of time and causality, unconstrained by those of the physical world. The rules of behavior of the tools give this world semantics in the mind of the designer, while the tools interact with the designer purely through manipulations of syntax, augmenting the designer's memory and ability with formal transformations. The toolsmiths (CAD researchers and developers) are the builders of this artificial universe. They are not like scientists, trying to unlock the secrets of a pre-existing universe, but more like Creators of an artificial universe, constructing the fundamental laws by which it operates.

In this talk, I explore recent innovations in design technology that point to a future with much richer syntax and semantics, where the constraints of the physical world are replaced by the constraints of logic, and the focus of design tools is to unleash creativity rather than to automate.

Viewgraphs (PDF)