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Build blocks

Build blocks – I remember becoming engrossed in building things with blocks as a child.

I could spend entire days on the floor exploring the possible configurations of a particular tower or imaginary city.

I don’t think (remembering the feeling as best I can) there was an idea of perfection.

Each project had its own way of being that would emerge after a bit of work.

To be building something felt like an act of discovery, as if the thing I was making wanted to be a certain way and I had to figure out what it was.

I remember feeling like the process was impossible to describe but could be refined by patience and attention.

The only way to become better at it was to do it.

These early experiences of making things were of course constrained by the shape of the blocks themselves — well defined objects that are immutable and known.

Why is it that I have these memories of exploring something unknown?

This doesn’t make sense, since the rules of whatever system I happened to be inventing while building were completely voluntary.

I imposed those rules on the blocks, I made them up.

There must be something about the blocks themselves that enabled my close attention.

What caused such intense focus?

I love seeing other people’s homes, and especially the space that they work in.

As adults we operate in a world with a different scale of blocks, but I think the same behavior is still present.

With the appropriately scaled module people can become lovingly engrossed in arranging and preening their environment.

Some people find themselves at Home Depot, others go to Ikea.

I see this behavior persist in the digital tools we use.

Run a perfectly customized Ubuntu or keep all your files on the desktop in OS X.

Perhaps I’m projecting my experience on to the world, but I see a similar experience to the one I enjoyed as a child when I watch people work to arrange their environment.

It’s a somewhat circular thought, but I like to keep this in mind when making things: people make things with the things I make.

Everything I put in to the world becomes a part of someone’s set of blocks.

Finding the appropriate scale of abstraction, the appropriate block size, is a design problem.

We tend to think about design as something similar to how an individual block looks and feels, but equally important is considering how each block participates in a system.

Some individual companies, like Ikea, are really successful at creating systems that allow people to engage at their preferred level of abstraction.

Customize a shelving system or just buy one pre-configured.

Think about individual pieces of furniture or use an existing room design.

Perhaps it’s because of my fond memory of building things as a child, but I like to think that good design is not too prescriptive.

Great systems encourage the people who use them to participate in them and build at the level of abstraction they’re comfortable with.

I see building as a universal and enlivening fascination.

To support that I try not to think of making the world a certain way.

Instead, I keep my attention on building systems for people to build with.