When tools get in the way

I’ve written before about the importance of learning to use tools to communicate our ideas. Inability to use a piece of software shouldn’t be the limiting factor in pursuing a good idea.

In the intervening weeks, I’ve thrown myself into experimenting with technology that helps me be productive and communicate ideas.

I’ve spent more hours than I can count poking around Illustrator and Photoshop to replicate images of fruit and iPhone apps and storyboards.

I’ve recorded videos using iMovie, drafted numerous documents and presentations using Pages and Keynote, and created digital sketches using my Adonit Jot and the Paper app on my iPad. I’ve captured and converted hours of video and audio footage from research projects. I’ve implemented the Action Method system across all my electronic devices to track my ever-expanding task list. I’ve Skyped in a classmate from 2,000 miles away to participate in class even when he couldn’t be physically present.

I’ve figured out an entirely new paperless workflow using iAnnotate to read and take notes on the articles, chapters, and white papers for classes.

I’ve enjoyed experimenting with a lot of technological tools–familiar and new–to help me get through this quarter.

But this week, as my classmates and I sketched people and digital interfaces and gave another round of presentations, I’ve been embracing analog methods again. The tactile stuff of markers and dry-erase boards and paper and sticky notes reminded me of something important:

Sometimes the tools just get in the way.

Because the idea needs to come first. Technology can support articulating an idea and bringing it to fruition. Hardware and software can be great ways to produce artifacts. But they can also serve as a serious distraction and focus our attention on the wrong things.

When I’m working on a project in Photoshop, it’s easy to zoom in on one portion of the screen and literally move pixels around. I can refine the details for hours, and completely forget what idea or value I’m trying to communicate more broadly.

So my challenge to myself this week has been to put pen to paper and sketch through concepts before I start digitizing them. I can draw something out in a minute or less and iterate several versions in roughly the same amount of time it takes to start up my computer and open Illustrator or Keynote.

Better yet, I think the physical interaction with an idea makes me more likely to refine and improve it. And it’s also way more satisfying to crumple up a piece of paper and thro it across the room than dragging a file to the trash.

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