The ability to build
Issue 120: Manifesting through construction and assembly
Whether you're a creative, entrepreneur, or in product, the ability to take a loose idea and construct it into something tangible will make you stand out from everyone else. It's in our nature as humans to build. Many grew up playing with toys that encouraged constructing, such as LEGOs, which may be the spark that led us into these professions. The difference between creating and building have quite the overlap with a bit of distinction. Let's define that without getting overly semantic. Creating is the process of coming into being. You can create a drawing and also create a mess. Building is the act of constructing and assembling with material. It can get blurry and overlap, for example, one could argue you can create and build a sculpture. It's best to focus on the traits of building.
Today I’ll cover the importance of building, the traits and attributes of proficient builders, and the benefits of going beyond creation to construction.
Building pushes an idea to existence
There is nothing more heartbreaking than witnessing someone unable to push their idea forward. In Bret Victor’s talk Inventing on Principle, he shares a thought in the same vein that resognates deeply with me::
“Ideas are very important to me. And the thing about ideas is that ideas start small. Ideas start out tiny, weak and fragile. In order to develop and mature, ideas need an environment where the creator can nurture them. Kind of take care of them, feed them, and shape their growth. And to me, that's what the principle of immediate connection is all about. And because ideas are so precious to me, when I see this principle violated, when I see ideas stillborn or stunted because their creator couldn't see what they were doing, I feel that's wrong.”
Every designer has probably once felt stuck on a project. It’s a wish to have the skills to build it yourself as opposed to relying on someone else. That’s what I did by learning to code and working as a front-end developer and iOS prototyper in my more formitable days as a designer (and boy, do I mean more formitable than today!). Though thoughtful design concept creation is essential and important work, boxes and rectangle in a drawing tool can only take you so far. Turn that image into an object that is sentiant, dynamic, and interactive. Push the limits of where you get stuck and you can control your own destiny.
Traits of builders
There are people who talk about building, then there's people who actually build. For the dozen people tweet about "building something new,” a small percentage are actually building. I had the pleasure of working with some incredible builders in my career and observed a few traits.
They’re not dogmatic about tools and methods
Building is about the output and making it exists in the intended environment. Though I work for a company that focuses on no-code tools, I love code and programming. Whether you choose to use a graphical user interface (GUI) like Webflow or write code in a text editor, the end desired output is a website to share on the internet. Great builders also rightsize what’s needed. They’re not going to spin up a full React app that a static site can accomplish.
They understand assembly points
Seasoned builders have a tendency to creat their own systems that are reusable, such as a design engineer constructing a UIKit or an entrepreneur building a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP). As you get comfortable with building, you’ll recognize patterns and assembly points—the important functional considerations of what you’re constructing. Understanding this allows you to understand the important mechanics that you need to get right.
They start, and start fast
Start so fast the speed of your building velocity surpasses the noise of people vocalizing about building. The same way rapid sketching aides you in refining an idea, building the initial scaffolding of an idea gives you the ability to identify the assembly points that need to be refined.
Great builder started as not-so-great builders. It takes much investment in practice and learning over many years. It can feel intimidating if you haven’t build anything before—start small. Small wins lead to huge ones through momentum. Starting big may result in discouraging failures. Create an environment to develop momentum and confidence. Start with the Glass Joe of building projects vs. going straight to Mike Tyson. Instead of learning to program off the bat, learn to build a database or writing a loop to develop a portfolio of small builds. You'll soon discover your skills compound in the ability to construct multiple things.
Go build something
I think of Jordan Singer, founder of Diagram, as someone who embodies building ideas. If you follow Singer, do not be intimated by his excellence and work as he is a once-in-a-generation designer. Be inspired by the curiousity and desire to build. Whether it’s an app, team, business, or community, I encourage you to consider building it yourself before feeling stuck.
Tweet of the week
Cash App Designer Soren Iverson posted a tweet to solicit feedback on a micro-interaction, and the feedback was awesome. More interactions like this on Design Twitter, please.
The follow up—the power of feedback!
Programmable Ink by Ink & Switch
The Builder’s High by Michael Lopp
The Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki
Design for Developers by Stephanie Stimac
Visualizing a Codebase by Amelia Wattenberger
Growth Engineering challenges and principles to overcome them by Federico Fiorini
This might be my favorite article by Ink & Switch and that’s saying a lot! Incredible research.