Issue 128: Avoiding the limitations of binary thinking
These days everything needs a hot take. Every week on Design Twitter there seems to be a main character or topic that is binary and polarizing. In fact, I think I saw the "should designers learn to code?" surface again. Then again, social media optimizes this type of dialog. This week it was the opinions on auto-layout. This type of binary thinking is very limiting. I grew up watching the original Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes IV, V, and VI), and yes, I feel a bit old having even to distinguish that. The first one I saw as a kid was Return of the Jedi; a VHS my parents would frequently borrow from our public library. Of course, it was the first one, because, space teddy bears! The space opera about wizards who fight with laser swords and use magic was about the struggle between the light side (Jedi Order) and Dark Side (The Sith). They had characteristics in their powers. The Sith channels their anger that emmets literal lighting whereas the Jedi took a stoic approach that held your emotions in check.
At an early age, I wondered, "why can't you use both powers?"
I've found looking at situations and applications of skills as a spectrum of options instead of siding with one was one of the best mindset shifts in my life. Let's take the auto-layout discussed online. Should people use auto-layout? Well, that really depends. How well do you know auto-layout? Is it something you comprehend well enough for you to use it to guide your work vs. struggling to figure it out while you're "using it"? Are you working with other people who know how to use it? When I teach people using drawing software like Figma or Sketch, I don't show auto-layout or components until there is a grasp of the basics. Best practices help you foster excellence throughout your work, and your work should be the focal point. It'd be like teaching a basketball player to master some style of offense before they're comfortable moving around the court with and without the ball.
Embracing duality and navigating the spectrum seamlessly comes in handy even as you advance in your work. When I’m doing early design ideations, I keep my file pretty flat—sometimes without any frames! The reason I avoid auto-layout, components, and other systems, in the beginning, is that I don’t even know the rules of it yet. I understand the sentiment of applying systems from the beginning to scale your work and ensure consistency. That said, it’s just as much work, if not more to rethink the entire definition of what you’re designing even is. That’s why for me, free-form sketching on paper or drawing software allows me to focus on the important thing to think about first. I think about the rules of the system and begin shaping it once there is more clarity.
Another duality discussed is if you should learn to code or use no-code tools. Play with both—have an open mind on which one works best for you. Both have the same desired outcome with different paths of comprehension depending on you. I grew up speaking two languages. At home, it was Vietnamese and at school, I spoke English. With family members who grew up in the United States like me, we speak a mix of both, sometimes mid-sentence. This is analogous to code expressed in a text editor vs. one in a GUI. Because you don’t have to pick one when you have a mindset of duality vs. a binary choice, the possibilities multiply exponentially more than being dogmatic about one side.
As you enter this week, consider the different choices you have that feel like one or the other. Seek what attributes bind them together as a duality and wield that power.
Tweet of the week
Computational Formalism: Art History and Machine Learning - Looks to be a fantastic read by author Amanda Wasielewski