What you’ve seen is what you’ll give

We taught a generation Microsoft Word. Then we stopped innovating. Even modern WYSIWYG editors are an exercise in assuming people cannot learn again.

The mental model for the Word document is a typewriter. Fixed width. Same with height. Page counts as progress.

People can learn plaintext. Modal editing could be normalized. It would not be easy. And the interfaces would not be intuitive at first. Someone can design it.

So much of modern tooling seems to assume the problem is that we cannot get ideas into long term storage quickly enough. This lust for efficiency is residue from the age of manufacturing.

Ideas don’t need to be dictated faster. It helps to a point. What ideas are lacking is clarity. The elevator pitch including the why that is immediately actionable. Documentation distilled down to its essence. Separating wheat from chaff.

More drop downs and autocompletes and structured data give the illusion of clarity. It calcifies what was believed to be important, and forces all future thought into that template.

This trade off is necessary for teams that have to execute. The constraints provide the lanes for leisurely drives. Some lanes are thick white lines that should not be crossed over unless you’re breaking down. Others are dashed lines that require a signal to communicate your intent to merge. Others are double yellow lines. Cross over them for your own peril.

We need all these lines. And we need to touch up the paint frequently to make it clear what kind of boundary we are defining, encountering, or refining. Some lines are so thick that construction cones will need to be up for a few days while traffic is rerouted. New concrete can always be poured. But that is a concretion. Roads to nowhere are sunk costs. Better a dirt road to a functioning outpost than the finest asphalt leading to nowhere, with no plans to settle.

Published: 2023-11-17

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