Constraints of Tools

If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.
Abraham Maslow

Tools have affordances — its properties influence users how it is used. This can be a problem if you do conceptual work and the tool you use “suggests” a specific design.

For example, in the graphic below a colleague wanted to illustrate a process and used Microsoft Word for it.

model

The problem is the right side of the model, where ‘something happens’ and the clip art is a circle of arrows (note that the arrows are not named, it’s a placeholder graphic, chosen probably because it looked nice or suiting). If you look at the model you will try to find steps that could happen there, but who says that these are really sequential steps and repeat themselves? It could also be more like a group of variables that are interrelated, in appearance more like a concept map.

It might be a small issue, but the way we represent information leads us. If it was a conscious decision that there has to be a sequential circle of steps (with five steps) that’s fine. Otherwise the clip art might look very nice but it is misleading and could shape (and limit!) further thinking about the issue.

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