There's a Person at the Other End

All Creation is a Conversation

Among my more annoying habits, according to my wife and various cubical neighbors over the years, is the fact that I incessantly chatter at myself, especially when I'm working on something that requires a lot of focus. I like to joke that I talk to myself because I'm usually the only one who listens, but I see it more as a pressure relief valve for the information I'm processing in my brain. When the registers are full, they dump data out the mouth. 

What's jarring, though, is that it sounds like I'm actually having conversations when I do this. I'm looking at a computer screen, but there's no chat window or video interface. I'm conversing with... my code editor. Or a blog post. Or a web site interface. Why am I yelling at a navigation menu? 

When I read a blog post or a news article, of course I'm reading what a person has written - I can associate a face or at least a personality with a byline - and I can, in my head (or out my mouth, when the head is full), have a conversation with that person about those ideas. This is a key part of human intelligence that truly makes us unique in the animal world. 

I take the same approach to just about everything in the world made by human hands. All design - really, all creation - is communication. What you put into this world reflects your view of it. If you're inventing a new product, you're putting something out there you think is missing in the world. If you share something on social media, you're amplifying a thought or an idea that you feel is not receiving enough attention. Every decision that goes into every detail of a design, whether it's a graphic art work or the functionality of a web application, is a reflection of the creator's point of view of how things should be done. 

Creative works produced by individuals tend to have more "quirks" as they may more closely reflect that individual's unique point of view. Creative works produced by groups tend to regress to a mean idea of what that group considers ideal, often led by a charismatic few. In all cases, there are human hands guided by human minds producing all of these great things.  

When you catch me talking to a book, a painting, a web site, an API endpoint or a set of documentation, I'm talking to the people at the other end of the creation. I'm trying first to understand their mental model of the world so I can better parse what information they're trying to convey. I may ask questions and try to seek what they have provided for answers. In my head, I can almost hear them guiding me as I pour through their work. 

When the creation is clear and understandable, the conversation is pleasant and short. When the creation is confusing and unclear or expects an unusual amount of effort from me, I tend to get visibly frustrated and agitated. As I push through, I consider how I may have done it better or what could be done to improve it. If I do figure out a better way, I try to understand why the creator may not have taken it. Either way, I almost always wind up empathizing with the people on the other end - after all, none of this is easy. 

The opposite is also true when I create. As I write this, for example, I'm having a conversation with you. I'm trying to anticipate your questions, but also the limits of your patience with my pompous prose. I'm wondering exactly what it is I'm trying to tell you and hoping it's clear. Even as I write that sentence, I'm not sure it is, so let's make it clear: You are a creator. When you create - whether for personal, artistic or commercial purposes - remember there is always another person on the other end. Show some empathy for them and try to make their lives easier or better or more fruitful with your creation. Don't assume they know everything you do, but don't assume they care as much as you do either. When it comes to supporting them, provide the help as quickly as possible and remain focused on the issue at hand, then let them move quickly on to the next. You may be no more than a momentary connection in their lives, so make sure it's a positive one.