The smallest details

Until recently I hadn’t thought about things this way, but now it’s dawned on me I’ll probably never see things the same way again. Here’s my realisation: everything we come across that wasn’t made by nature has been designed by people and refined by people; invisible examples of decisions made by other people surround us all day, every day. How often do we stop and think about why some of these seemingly tiny decisions were made? Up until recently, I hardly ever did. Now I think about these things a lot.

People who make things - engineers, programmers, designers, tradesmen, artists - put a lot of thought into their work. They think about what their creation is meant to do, who it is meant for, and how people are supposed to use it. Each one of these choices impacts profoundly on the end product that we use or consume. People are making decisions for us constantly, and when we make a purchase what we are implicitly saying is that we think this tool will be the correct one for a job I need to do.

Think about a pen you often use. Pens are one of the most ubiquitous items in Western culture. There are seemingly infinite variety of pens avaiable. There are luxurious fountain pens and cheap biros. They write in many colours - most commonly red, blue, green and black. Some have round barrels, some have hexagonal ones. Some have lids, some are retractable. Every single aspect of every pen ever created was a product of decisions made by other people. The sound your car door makes when you close it? The car company closed it a thousand times, recorded it and changed it over time. The alarm that sounds when you leave your fridge door open too long? A great idea, and a decision that someone had to make in order for it to become a reality. It might even be the case that the more obvious something seems, the more time and effort went into making it that way.

When I first started writing for this site, I assumed that I’d use the tool that I’d always used to write: Microsoft Word. I knew how to use it, it had more than enough power to do what I wanted and I already had it on my computers. But it soon became clear to me it wasn’t the right tool for this job. I didn’t need complex formatting, a million fonts or different design options. What I needed was a way to get words from my head into my devices as simply as possible. I also needed to be able to get the words out and onto my site quickly and easily. After downloading too many programs over a week or two, I settled on an app called Byword. No program can make your writing better directly, but using this tool I’m writing more words, in more places, and I’m publishing things faster. There can be no question that it has had a profound if indirect impact on my work.

The people that made your fridge, pen and car door thought about those little things a lot. If you’re experiencing friction with something you use regularly, it might be because you’re using the wrong tool for the job. Here’s what I’ve realised - even the tiniest details matter. A lot of thought has gone into almost everything you lay your hands on. Whether you’re overjoyed, indifferent or infuriated with something, know that everything is the product of a million tiny decisions made by other people. It may or may not be of any comfort to you, but it might substantially change the way you look at things going forward. Next time you pick something up, ask yourself why that thing is the way it is.