#52 Design Language

This is post #52 of my #365 day series.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Let me first start by stating the obvious — people are shallow beings. They judge books by their cover (heck, I judge wine by how pretty the label is). This reality sucks if you’re trying to convey something with great intrinsic value, but people won’t even give you the time of day because extrinsically it’s not appealing to them. I think about this a lot. In fact I think about it every single day. A part of my job is creating user interface and user experiences (UI/UX) that people want to work in. Yeah, that’s right, I said “people” as a category of users. Not just lawyers or legal professionals, people. So when I set off to design stuff for them, it can’t just be function over form, because people will judge the functionality through the form.

I ran into the conundrum today as I was wrapping up some code functionality. I thought to myself “Gee, this functionality is awesome, maybe I should show it to the team.” I stopped myself. Why? Because the first thing someone will do is judge it by the looks and that’s not what I wanted. I wanted someone to see the jetpack I created and say “dude, that’s awesome that you made a jet pack.” Invariably, however, I get the response of “But wouldn’t it be cooler if it were in an Iron Man suit?” Yes, everything would be better in the form of a marvel superhero, but that’s not the point. Or is it? Have you ever tried saying something nice but only using mean sounding words? How about if you just used curse words to describe how lovely someone looks. That feeling you get when you think about those things is the concept of connotation versus denotation. Connotation evokes a feeling. And therein lies the problem. When we express concepts they render a feeling, an emotion from the intended audience. We can’t separate the two unfortunately. There is no sterile communication medium (although you can argue that math lacks opinions and thereby can communicate concepts sans emotion, but I think mathematicians would beg to differ).

To attempt to convey your intent and meaning without accounting for the emotion that it will evoke is naive and, frankly, reckless. I say these things while firmly pointing the finger at myself. My mother has said (on a zoom call to my team I might add) that “He says mean things but he has a good heart.” Everyone on that call nodded their heads. That’s a failure on my part. It’d be better if I expressed a good heart by saying not mean things. This is one of the many reasons why I’m writing more, so I can get my happy and good-hearted thoughts out without communicating the “mean” that apparently colors all of my communications. It is this respect for language, that I continue to write and try to hone by design skills in it. I suppose I could’ve titled this post, language design. Maybe I’ll talk about that next time.

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