The Idiot Line

Published on — Filed under biased bits

This one goes out to all the incredibly talented designers I've had the good fortune to work with along my career.

I'm sorry for all the times I embodied the person I'm about to write to.

Dear developer/engineer,

Hi. I'm also an engineer, just like you. And, as someone that is (mostly) like you, today I'm going to tell you about a line that I drew some time ago.

I call it The Idiot Line — a line that represents your boundary of competence.

The Idiot Line

Beneath this line you have all the things you know how to do well. You've learned them by experience, possibly backed by formal theoretical background — it's not really important; if you have skill and believe in kaizen, you can overcome the lack of a more rigorous education and become a talented craftsman anyway.

Beyond this line, however, are all the things you've been exposed to, but do not fully comprehend. Allow me to elaborate...

You've built things, things that went on to become products. Most likely with graphical interfaces. Things that other people click and touch and move around. You've wrote or hit a few API's, processed some data, pushed some pixels around. Some of that stuff is really complex. You feel smart. You are!

You've learned how to recognize a good experience and interface. You feel like you have a good sense of what should go where and why. You're opinionated... Passioned about it. Wonderful!

But do remember one very important little thing:

You're not a fucking designer.

Every time you pretend to be one, you cross The Idiot Line — you're no longer a talented individual that can turn abstract ideas into some form of ethereal reality that reaches thousands (maybe millions!) of people across this tiny beautiful little planet just by sitting in front of an exquisite piece of complex, intricate machinery and writing in some demonic language that baffles the common mortal's comprehension...

No. You're an idiot now.

You criticize, push back or flat out reject the product of someone else's craft based solely on your own self-righteous-and-mostly-if-not-entirely-empirical opinion of how things should work without ever understanding the decisions, the process, the thought that drove all of the designs you've ever been exposed to.

Make no mistake, my friend; you should have an opinion. You are entitled to one. You need one if you're going to put love into the things you build — and we all know that's the only way to build great things. But you must also learn on which side of the line you belong.

Make sure you're heard. Respectfully. But at the end of the day, defer and entrust the decisions to the people that actually know what they're doing. They do the same with you.

A very passionate, opinionated craftsman, just like you.