Articles
Dec 29, 2020

Generalization Process applied to API design of UI components

To make a piece of machinery “more general” you have to modify it to be capable of doing something other than what it already does, while making sure it can still do what it does now.

What is Generation Process?

If you search on Google about “Generation Process” one of the first results returned — at least for my Google profile :) — would be the Wikipedia definition.

Basically, the definition describes that given two related concepts A and B, A is a “generalization” of B (equivalent, B is a special case of A) if and only if both of the following hold:

  • Every instance of concept B is also an instance of concept A.
  • There are instances of concept A which are not instances of concept B.

The concept might have a more specific meaning in a specialized context(e.g. generalization in learning, generalization in programming).

Generalization in programming

In my early days doing programming with Delphi and later with Java everything was about Object-Oriented Programming(OOP). Back then we read Object-oriented analysis and design with applications and Generalization was tight in our mental model to Inheritance.

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The concept of Animal is a generalization of the concept of Dog since every dog is an animal but not every animal is a dog(a cat, for instance).

Here some other examples of Generalization in programming:

  • Abstract Classes. Abstract classes isolate the common characteristics of their descendants.
  • Templates. Templates allow functions and classes to be parameterized by type.
  • Libraries. Placing a piece of code in a library allows it to be used by more than one program.

How we applied it to UI components API design?

A UI component implementation by itself is a Generalization of all the use cases that support when you build it to be reusable in more than one use case or in more than one application. But how is Generation related to API design?

When designing a component API you should defer implementing features as long as possible to avoid making guesses.

Until you have the information necessary, you are just guessing at what is needed and your success is determined largely by luck. I also believe you may be grossly underestimating the costs of speculation. WayneMack.

At some point, you can’t defer anymore a new feature for a component, it’s clear that this feature belongs to component A, then one of the first question to ask ourself is, how the new version of the API won’t compromise the previous use cases.

In other words, if every use case of your component is a special case of your component API, the new API must not conflict with the previous use cases or that will be considered a breaking change or a violation of the generalization process.

Conclusion

There is not future proof for always apply the generalization process on API design. I always try to exercise generalization with the future of the component, a question I always ask is, how the new API and use case we are implementing won’t compromise the future use cases of the component?

Ultimately we need to be fine with designs we agree on and they were designed to not support certain use cases.

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