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Tools should turn us into experts

Planted 02020-09-21

Tools shape our learning, processes, and mental models.

Christian Heilmann on Tools should not only be for experts – they should turn us into them.

Our tools should never make people feel “too stupid” to use them or wonder why some features are even there.

There is no shortage of great documentation and best practices… The problem is that there is so much, you can’t even know what is solid advice and what isn’t. That’s why most of us don’t read the docs.

Why don’t we put documentation and insightful messages in our tools instead? As subject matter experts, we are likely to be able to give you good advice. Showing the information in context also means that you don’t need to go elsewhere. And that the information isn’t drowned in lots of ads or follows a hidden agenda.

So here’s a truth: we all don’t know what we do all the time. Even as someone working on the developer tools I find new things all the time I never looked at. If you feel overwhelmed, that should be on us to help you with – it isn’t a failure on your part.

We want tools to be something you use and learn while you use them. Not something you need to already be an expert in.

When tools don’t match your workflow, build one.

Linus on Build tools around workflows, not workflows around tools.

The Eureka moment that some of us feel when we finally find a notes app or todo system that fits our brains – that epiphany happens when the tools we use mirror the way our minds work, and how we want to move information through our lives. Good tools fit perfectly around our workflows, bad tools don’t.

Mass-market productivity tools don’t fit the way our individual minds are predisposed to work. Instead, to use these tools, we need to bend our workflows to fit around the tools.

Tools shape our mental models.

But I certainly felt differently, and I realized I was only separating things into these two buckets because my tools forced me to. Before I wrote my own tools, I had a todo app (Todoist) and I had a notes app (Simplenote), and there was nothing in between.

Search for tools that view the world and your work the way your mind does, and prefer tools that can grow with you over time, the way that works best for you.