The imperfection of our tools

I enjoy a well-crafted application. I place a high value on attention to detail, have opinions on what design elements make an application work, and try to empathize with the users of applications I’m involved in creating. Applications with a good aesthetic, a few novel but effective design decisions, and sensible workflow find themselves in my Mac’s dock. Those that don’t, do not.

The applications I observe fellow creators using to create often don’t fit into their environment. They don’t fit into the native look-and-feel. They ignore important idioms. Their metaphors are imperfect, the conceptual edges left unfinished.

In part I notice this because as creators we tend to live in a few different applications, and time reveals most shortcomings. But in part, I notice this because the applications are in fact flawed. Flawed to the point, that you would think given my opening words, that I would refuse to use them. And indeed, I refuse to use many of the applications that others find completely acceptable for making the same kinds of things I do.

Increasingly, it seems the applications that people who create things live in offer a disjoint user experience. I’m thinking of visual people living in Photoshop or Illustrator or developers living in Emacs or Terminal.app. We use these applications because they best allow us to make what we want and get in our way only a little bit. But, it’s a tenuous relationship at best.

What’s this say about what we’re doing and the boundaries that we operate along? Would we accept the same kinds of shortcomings in say, a calendar application or a clock widget, if those were central to our workflow? That is, is there something about the creative process that leads us to accept sub-perfect tools? Is it inevitable that someone seeking to make new things will find their tools imperfect? Is the quest for ever-more perfect tools part of how we grow as makers?

I hate closing with a bunch of questions, but this piece is but an imperfect tool for discovering an idea.

Ed. Closing could use some work.