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Don’t be a Tool.

March 7, 2013


hammer_toaster copy

Look at the items above: A hammer. A computer. A toaster. Which of them doesn’t belong? Which of them is unlike the others?

Okay are you done?

Good. The correct answer is “C.” It’s the toaster doesn’t belong.

Why? Well, you see, a computer—like a hammer—is a tool. You would not go up to a pile of wood and start swinging a hammer at it and expect a house to show up, would you? No. Then why on Earth would anyone dump a bunch of words and images into their computer, pick a typeface, add a drop-shadow, and expect an effective piece of design to emerge?

In the right hands, tools can do amazing things; in the wrong hands they make a mess.

With a hammer, a skilled carpenter can build a house. She can build cabinets or a sailboat or whatever she can imagine. It’s up to the carpenter and her level of skill. That is how I hope you will think of your computer, as a tool. A very handy tool, but a tool all the same.

But hang on, you say; my toaster—my beloved toaster—it is also a tool.

To which I say, what the hell is wrong with you? Why are you talking to your computer? You begin to roll your eyes and aim your mouse for the “back” button in your browser window, so I quickly explain: It’s not a tool; it’s an appliance!

An appliance? you say, batting your eyes once more. What the Hell’s the difference?

Well, an appliance can only do one thing. (In this case turn bread into toast). It doesn’t matter if you are the world’s greatest chef or a freshman in college: Toasters only make toast.

Likewise when a so-called “computer artist” drags an image into Photoshop, and then starts applying filters to it willy-nilly, until it looks cool, do you think they will ever get graphic design? They will not. The computer dictated the look of things, not the “artist”. They will therefor get toast.

However—if an artist considers their image first, decides it would be stronger with different cropping (or better contrast, or flopped along its axis, or made into a duo-toned mosaic), and then Photoshop is used to achieve that idea—now you have my attention; now you are designing.

•  •  •

A few weeks ago I was talking with my 10 year old niece, who is a budding young writer.

She was trying to come up with a name for an evil robot who is the antagonist in a story she is working on. She pulled out her iTouch and proudly showed me an app she found (maybe it’s called wordsmith) that helps writers pick names.

She shook her device and a name appeared on the screen. This is how she was picking names for the characters in a story!? This was the worst example of “toasting” I’ve seen in years. I was aghast, but kept it to myself.

A few days later she emailed me to show me how her story was coming along. It truly was great. The only thing she hadn’t yet decided on, was the name for her bad guy, robot. Maybe she’ll name it after her little brother; she had to give it more thought.

I was so proud.

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One Comment
  1. I enjoyed your post. Thank you for sharing.
    Chris Mobley

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