Posts Tagged ‘narcissus’

The Folly of Tool Obsession

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2012
CSSquirrel #103: The Folly of Tool Obsession

The well-dressed and well spoken Aarron Walter stars in today’s comic as witness to the tragic results of the Squirrel’s folly. The Frankenpersona, a vile result of the obsession over the use UX tools over the actual needs of the users, may not be marching down the hallways of your web team’s studio, but I’m sure you’ve seen similar ugly beasties in your time in the trenches.

I know I have.

I’m not sure if employees of Mailchimp are expected to produce newsletters on a regular basis as a part of their job, but Aarron does. Issue 8 of his On My Mind newsletter got the the following review from his fellow Mailchimper Jason Beaird:

Everyone who works in UX should read @aarron’s latest “On My Mind” newsletter.

Although he might be subject to a certain amount of coworker bias, I’m going to back up what he said. Go read it.

Honestly, I don’t have a lot of additional insight to add other than the fact that I’ve seen exactly what he’s talking about: Team members that become obsessed with tools and processes to the detriment of the project and its end users. I’ve become obsessed like that. It never ends well.

This doesn’t extend just to UX Design. Heck, it doesn’t just extend to web professionals. It extends to pretty much anything.

Tools are great. Without them we’d probably still be fighting bears in hand-to-hand combat and living on a diet of easy-to-catch animals and the less troublesome plants, like sloths and sunflowers.

But tool obsession is just nuts. The means don’t justify the ends just because the means use the coolest new hip technique. In the end, a product has to stand on how it works for the users. And to make those great products, we need to remember that our workflow needs to be flexible. We should accept common sense or acknowledge better ideas when they appear. Even if it’s from teammates who aren’t using our favorite process.

He uses the story of Narcissus as a metaphor about the impact of a blind obsession with tools, referencing how the mythical youth became so enamored by his reflection (his tools, if you will) that he became its servant, numb to the actual people around him in service of his own mirrored image.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Aarron’s article that I think really touches to the core of what he’s saying.

As our tools have evolved, so too have our teams, dividing into specializations that help us build for many platforms, create better content, and design more usable experiences. But as we divide, we understand one another less, causing us to lose our empathy for the challenges of the designer or developer we work with. When we no longer feel the pain of our peers, we stop listening to their recommendations and ignore the limitations they face. That’s how political unrest arises in teams, and the loser in those battles is always the user.