The Weak Link

I enjoyed reading this article, written by Ethan Marcotte. It makes some interesting points, aligns with my own cognitive bubble and provides some deeper insight into areas of stuff that I find interesting. Taken together, these parameters create a piece of writing that generally makes for a ‘good read’. Food for thought. Worth remembering.

Except, I won’t remember it. Perhaps I’ll find it inspiring or important enough to cross-post it, save it to Pocket, blog about it, highlight it in Evernote or employ one of the other myriad ways I’ve setup to somehow archive information. But will I ever look at it again? If not, what’s the point?

In a sense, these are all systems intended to enhance or expand my own limited storage space, to break the barriers biology has created. Archived information, though, is effectively forgotten if the archive lacks an easy and intuitive means of recovering it again. If a year passes and I suddenly find myself wanting information on pattern libraries, will I be able to cross reference my archive and pull back Ethan’s article? Will it even be relevant for the questions I’m asking at that time, or will it be discarded as white noise. What if I forgot to add that particular reference point or search the wrong archive?

Some of these systems are ones I’ve personally constructed, such as this website or my old Tumblr. These systems were designed by me, specifically so that I could find information quickly and intuitively. The problem is, they don’t really work. They just shift the required memory space away from the contents of the article, or video, or whatever else I’m trying to store and replace it with the keywords, tags or categorisation I’ve stored it under. If I’m lucky, future me will remember enough of these to pull back the right information at a later date, but the sticky issue is that if I don’t, the system breaks down and I will never know about it.

Honestly, I’m not sure a system can exist that does what I’m hoping to find. I want a means of quickly and easily adding to, maintaining and cross-referencing a database of information. I don’t mind a little upkeep, but preferably adding content would be near instantaneous and filtering it highly flexible. At this point I have nearly a dozen such systems, from online resources like Evernote to application specific solutions like bookmarks folders; even offline, meat-space concepts like notebooks. The reason I have so many is that none of them have worked. They are all either too personal, too restrictive in their access or have become too burdensome.

It’s borderline ironic that the web hasn’t magically answered this need, given that the entire technology is built on the concept of linking and cross-referencing information. In a way, I guess it could be argued that the web solved the reference issue but forgot about the index. Services like Google and Bing have attempted to fill that void but they can only do so much and will never be able to create the personalised experience I require.

Perhaps the future holds some answers or perhaps I have to just learn to accept that forgetting is, well, okay.

Design Tool Survey 2016

For the second year running, Khoi Vinh of subtraction.com is asking for designers/developers to fill out a survey detailing what tools they use in their day-to-day workflow. I’m probably not the true, intended participant, as it would be hard to argue that I am actively developing anything at the moment (dabbling here aside), but I’ve followed the process and outcome of the 2015 survey with interest and wanted to get a more hands-on feel for it this time around.

If you are at all interested, I’d definitely recommend it and you can do so here. Personally, I was a little disappointed by the lack of scope. The results of last year’s input were both insightful and very well presented, but now I’ve actually seen how those results were garnered I feel they’re certainly a little biased.

My main issue was the lack of personal detail requested. To be clear, the survey absolutely does not require email addresses, personal names, locations (outside of country) etc. and, correctly, refrains from these clear breaches of privacy. However, I would have though that determining the OS or main software environment people use would be fairly crucial. Similarly, asking what software you use right now is great, but I’d personally love to see what people want to use as well.

I’m a prime example of the warped outcome you can get without these details (if you ignore the fact that I’m barely an example, that is). My answers will likely group me in the box of “outdated dinosaur”; someone who is using the same tools now that they were a decade ago. Though this is largely the case (iPad aside), the reality, however, is that this isn’t my choice. I choose to use Windows as my core OS; I would do even if I was still actively freelancing as my main income source. But that means I can’t choose to move away from Adobe – at all. Would I preferentially wireframe in Sketch? Absolutely! But that isn’t an option because Sketch, like the vast majority of tools being surveyed, isn’t available to the vast majority of the world.

The gap between innovation and accessibility in the design world is becoming truly enormous, especially now even the iPad is undergoing large scale price hikes. Unfortunately, I don’t feel it will be possible for Subtraction’s survey to adequately reflect that issue, which I feel is a missed opportunity. Personally, I’d love to see how much of an impact this gulf is having in the West – it scares me to think how negatively impactful it may be elsewhere in the world!