Pliant Research is concerned with the mismatch between the rigidity of current computing technology and the richness of human lives and practices. We are exploring design stances that take advantage of digital hardware and systematic techniques, but avoid the limits of the formal approach that has dominated the design of digital systems. Our goal is to create pliant systems--flexible, resilient, and responsive--that everyone can use more effectively and comfortably, because they better fit our ways of dealing with our world.

An overview of our viewpoint is given in an interview: Beyond Formalisms: The Art and Science of Desiging Pliant Systems - A Talk with Austin Henderson and Jed Harris. (Chapter 4 in Klaas Kaasgaard, "Software Design Usability".)

The Pliant agenda has continued to inform other projects, including the collaborative moderation development at Peerworks. Also, Jed Harris now has a blog in which he is discussing these issues.

Two Research Agendas

Pliant usage

We see some immediate payoffs from our work in providing better approaches to existing software design problems. These center around using current rigid computing technologies in a pliant way.

Pliant technology

However, the larger payoffs are in the middle to long term. In that time frame, we think pliant design ideas can lead to major improvements in digital systems. In both the short and longer terms, pliant computation will entail significant changes in the way people (including organizations) develop and use computational systems.

Papers and presentations

Over the course of this work (see History, below), a number of papers and presentations have been prepared. These are offered in hopes of getting comments and of finding others interested in working with us on these issues. We encourage you to contact us.

[Note: These documents are in PDF format. Acrobat 3.0 is required to read them; you can get Acrobat 3.0 free from Adobe.]


The work has been carried out in two phases:


Please address questions and comments to

Copyright 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000 Pliant Research. All Rights Reserved.

Last update: 21 June, 2000 by Austin Henderson (