The best thing to think about

When your medium is computer programming there is a strong tendency to think in terms of how things work. After all, there can be many complex parts involved in a successful piece of computer software, and creating a system that works well is a source of pride.

But this tendency to focus on the beauty of one’s algorithm or implementation has a potential downside: It can come at the expense of a clear focus on the actual user experience.

I often see this tendency in my computer science students. They strive so hard to build something that works, then afterward they say “Look at this thing I created, it functions perfectly. Isn’t it wonderful?” Alas, all too often it isn’t wonderful — at least not to anybody who actually tries to use it.

This is one reason it is a good idea to spend time with creative people who don’t know or care how your software works. It’s actually great when somebody doesn’t have the faintest idea how you did something, because they cannot be blinded by the beauty of your algorithm or your implementation.

All they see is what your creation actually does, and all they think about is what they could use it for. Which is really the best thing to think about.

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