Reduce computation for higher quality work
Issue 94: You don't need computation as much as you think
I love commuting to work when it doesn’t suck. It’s a routine for thinking time. One of my favorite commutes when living in San Francisco was from my place in Lower Pacific Heights to the work office in the Financial District. The MUNI 1BX bus would be the chariot that took me there. The only sad imperfection about the commute was when I found out the X in BX stands for “express”, not “extreme”1. It was the perfect commute, dropping us off right by the Blue Bottle Coffee on Sansome—a hotbed for recruiting and hiring. The office was not too far away from the Simulatte in The Matrix 4.
I vividly remember a day in the office when the power and internet went out. This means our access to Figma and GitHub wasn’t accessible. As a geriatric millennial, I naturally grabbed a pen and paper to continue working. As I was listening to my 80s synth wave music on my can headphones, I could start hearing the chatter of coworkers rise above the tunes in my ears. I looked up, and people were acting like it was a snow day in school. I realized how dependent we are on technology to do work.
This isn’t a post about throwing your computer in the ocean and never touching a machine again. It’s about balancing human thought with computation to achieve something great.
The bicycle for the mind became a crotch rocket motorcycle
You may have heard the analogy from former Apple CEO Steve Jobs about the personal computer being the bicycle for the mind. The analogy conveyed how the computer can amplify human thought. With the rise of high-powered computation, the bicycle for the mind turned into a crotch rocket you couldn’t steer or that wretched motorcycle level in Battle Toads where you’d perpetually crash and burn. where you’d perpetually crash and burn.
“User should set the pace of an interaction.” —Jef Raskin, The Humane Interface
Benefits of reducing computation
Our smartphones have more computing power than the Apollo rockets that took humans to the moon. The bicycle for the mind has come more of a power tool that you take precautions before using it. When I studied art, it was a multidisciplinary curriculum, and wood design was a required course. We learned how to use powerful but dangerous tools with a finite amount of wood. Most of our class sessions were sketching out our designs for the building. The equivalent of spending hours designing in Figma2 without a realized concept would be if I started cutting stuff with the power saw hoping that I come up with a good solution. It can work but is wasteful of time and resources.
Refining concepts before building
Drawing first is the hill I die on. Sketch low fidelity, then when you find the right solution, go in high fidelity and build. Avoid mediocre fidelity at all cost.
Better ergonomics and health
Our bodies are slowly getting destroyed by being on the computer all day, especially working remotely. Tech neck and too much screen time can negatively impact your body. Limiting computation time helps with your ergonomics.
Sketching and drawing out designs is not some hipster shit you do, it’s a way to get you to be more thoughtful about your design. Computation is life-changing and will propel humanity to places we never imagined, but it has to be in moderation and intentional. As I take the week off to do a creative week and staycation, I’m only working on my iPad, a device where I removed the power tools and have tools for thought installed to help accelerate my thinking.
Creativity is a sensitive topic. We imagine that it looks like a brilliant artist being bored and having this aha moment where the idea comes to you. There is truth to that—it’s a duality. At times you may have to sit in front of your desk and play and explore. You should take the bicycle for the nine on a free ride with no destination. I believe creativity is a skill and you can find ways to invoke it.
I challenge you not to sit in front of Figma or Google docs staring at it and flailing at high fidelity. Certainly, there are points in the process where you’ll need to. Instead, start on pen and paper and storyboard out your different ideas. It’s important not to use a pencil as you’ll get tempted to erase and refine. Get the thickest marker you can find that removes detail and focuses on the essence.
The challenge: Don’t use a computer until your intention is clear. Give it a try. You might be amazed by the results.
Tweet of the week
RIP Corey Marion, Iconfactory founder. I did not know Corey personally though always held Iconfactor in such high regard.
A collection of things I read (not endorsements)
The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam
The 38 is the extreme bus. If you live in San Francisco, you know. For Seattlites, it’s the 358
I am not anti-Figma. In fact, it’s one of the greatest pieces of software ever. All I’m saying is try coming with a plan first
This isn’t sponsored. I’m a huge fan of Affinity Designer, Photo, and Publisher—very impressive