Simplicity and Comfort

About a year ago, I came across this wonderful interview between Jack White and Conan O’Brien. The full interview is over an hour long but the first 10 minutes are filled with a number of wonderful points.

The first of those is simplicity. Jack White talks of his apprenticeship as an upholsterer and observing the minimum number of staples to consider something upholstered. Too few and the fabric would pull too much between the staples.

White went on to apply this approach to the White Stripes. He applied constraints of simplicity to inspire his ability to create music.

I often think about this in the context of web design and development. In design, I often feel that designers over-complicate the usability of an application in an attempt to achieve another kind of simplicity. In development, I often feel that developers over-complicate the development process with multiple frameworks, dependencies, and build tools to achieve another kind of simplicity.

With a world seemingly heading in one direction, I feel a little odd wanting to head in the other direction. As a designer, I like interfaces that are straightforward. I don’t want to remove every line or shadow or gradient. I like obvious. As a developer, I like having fewer levels of abstraction. (But recognize that I still use many levels of abstraction. Why is 5 levels okay but 7 isn’t? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯)

As Jack White says, sometimes this attempt at simplicity can come off as pretentious.

The second point was that of comfort. “Comfort can kill a creative impulse,” Conan says. This is where I’ve found myself. I’m comfortable. So, as Conan asks, “how do you create a situation where you’re not comfortable?”

Self-defined deadlines have never really worked well for me. It’s too easy to dismiss them. Conferences, for example, have unmissable deadlines. Work deliverables have deadlines. But it’s easy to dismiss personal deadlines. It’s easy to not move forward because I’m comfortable.

If I’m comfortable, how do I create a situation for me where I’m not comfortable? How do I get that hunger and motivation back?

Again as Conan says, it’s falling in love with hard work. Getting into the zone, or flow, is a wonderful place. I miss that place.

There are so many things that distract me from getting into the zone. Kids, Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit, to name a few. I can’t get rid of my kids but I can adjust how I spend my time on social media. I need to strengthen my productivity muscle. If writing is what I want to do then I’ll spend time every day writing. If coding is what I want to do then I’ll spend time every day coding.

It reminds me of shovelling snow after a big snowstorm. My kids look at it and find it daunting. They want to give up. But it gets done, one scoop at a time. I keep chipping away at it until it’s finally done. I am satisfied to see that clean driveway.

And just like that, I need to keep chipping away at my goals. I’ll make sure I can visualize my progress and I’ll be satisfied to see the final product.

Published January 03, 2016
Categorized as Personal
Short URL:


1 Comment · RSS feed
Ian Feather said on January 03, 2016

Really nice post! It resonated a lot with me. I find these things are easier with some shared accountability, small or large. I've recently experimented with something like this. Your post inspired me to write it up.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post. If you have any further questions or comments, feel free to send them to me directly.