Friday, April 2

mere competence

Daring Fireball: Ronco Spray-On Usability (via Brent):

It's not something every programmer can learn. Most programmers don't have any aptitude for UI design whatsoever. It's an art, and like any art, it requires innate ability. You can learn to be a better writer. You can learn to be a better illustrator. But most people can't write and can't draw, and no amount of practice or education is going to make them good at it. Improved, yes; good, no.

I am inclined to disagree.

Actually, I was inclined to write "Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit." and move on, but I realized that might be lacking in nuance.

I don't feel up to tackling the usability argument here, especially since it's kind of a sectarian usability argument. I get my kicks elsewhere these days. My problem here is the innate ability thing. It's not that I don't believe in innate ability or its impact on art. But what does that last sentence mean? "Improved, yes; good, no." So no matter how much better they get they'll never be good? Some people just happen to have been touched by the magic finger of Art and everyone else is SOL?

I admit it seems that way, some days. The best art is produced by people who are wired to sense more and express it better. For the vast majority of people who don't have the faculties of a great poet-essayist or draftsman, no amount of practice is likely to render them more than competent. But writing and drawing and UI design are all skills and skillsets, which means precisely that they are learned and practiced. And competence, no matter what disdain may be heaped upon the term, is admirable. I think it's also achievable. (I think the design of interfaces is part and parcel of being a competent programmer; this being one reason I do not consider myself a competent programmer.)

This has been something of an exercise in missing the point. Or at least in avoiding it. I agree with some bits of the quoted article, anyway. It's only that lately I am finding all sorts of assertions about innate and acquired human traits bothersome.