Everything’s the Same

· April 24th

When I was still in school, my architect major friend asked me what designers did day-to-day. I explained it was a lot of coffee, x-acto blade magic and squinting at computer monitors. But, in a more meta sense, designers help people do what they want, or get the information they need.

“Oh,” she said, “so it’s the same.”

“Same as what?” I asked.

“Architecture. You guys just use pixels and ink instead of steel girders and concrete.”

A couple of months later, I took an intro to poetry course. I deeply love poetry, but my eyes really lit up when my professor wrote ‘contrast’ on the blackboard. In the studio, we had just been talking about contrast and how design was simply adjusting contrasts in meaningful ways.

“Contrast is very important,” he said, “if you write a fly and a bear in a room together, the fly makes the bear seem more bear-like.”

“It’s the same!” I said to myself.

Fast forward to my first interactions with an engineer.

“So what does good code look like?” I asked.

“Oh,” he said, “good code is clean and efficient. It’s reusable pieces that are well-organized, and everything fits together.”

It’s the same! Everything’s the same!

People who build things share a particular esprit de corps. So many foundational principles, such as contrast or respect for the user, carry over to other media. In some sense, learning a discipline is really learning the same rules, but with different materials. Some build with brackets and for loops, some build with words and metaphors, others build with ink and paper.

This isn’t to say that we should be searching for unicorns or that being able to build a house means you’re a great writer. It’s to say that a literacy in a certain kind of building should instill a sense of respect for other builders, despite their medium. When people laugh at engineers for poor visual taste or accuse designers of being dumb stylists, something’s missing. That special nod in the hall between strangers has been lost.

Everything’s the same, and if everything’s the same, we’re all in this together.