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Links and articles about technology, design, and sociology. Written by Rian van der Merwe.

Stop telling us how much everything sucks

Last night Cennydd Bowles tweeted something that really resonated with me:

It reminded me of Erin Kissane’s contribution to the A List Apart article What I Learned About the Web in 2011:

If a single idea has followed me around this year, from politics to art and work to friendships, it’s been this one: “it’s more complicated than that.”

It’s centrally important to seek simplicity, and especially to avoid making things hard to use or understand. But if we want to make things that are usefully simple without being truncated or simplistic, we have to recognize and respect complexity—both in the design problems we address, and in the way we do our work.

I don’t know the flow of events that led Cennydd and Erin to their respective statements, but I know why it struck a chord with me. It feels like the number of tweets and blog posts that are written to ridicule and obliterate new products/apps/redesigns are on the rise. It’s like people don’t like anything any more — unless their friends made it. I think we can do better.

It’s easy to write a few paragraphs about how much something sucks. You know what’s difficult? Recognizing and respecting complexity. Giving people the benefit of the doubt and trying to understand why they made the decisions they made — whether it’s related to business, design, development, or anything else.

What’s really difficult is starting your argument from an assumption that other people are deliberate and thoughtful, and then working through each of your criticisms methodically. You’ll either realize that they made the right decisions, or arrive at the conclusion that they made some mistakes. Even if they did make mistakes — and we all have — by starting from a different baseline you’ll end up with a solid (and respectful) critique that the person can use to do things better.

For a creative person, the difference between reading “You suck!” and reading “Here’s where I think you made some wrong decisions” is the difference between being shamed into crawling under the covers and never putting their work out there ever again, and being encouraged to make their product better. We should always, always aim to do the latter.