Today I sat on my floor with paper, tape and scissors to explore ideas around a what a new, unified Webmaker tool could look like. I had some thoughts.
What user need does a new Webmaker tool address?
If good products solve existing pain — and not the pain people don’t yet know they have — it can sometimes feel like we are retrofitting product ideas with invented problems. At Mozilla, we certainly have a team assembled and a website infrastructure already built (hello webmaker.org) — but it often feels like nothing is (or the wrong things are) plugged into that infrastructure, like we are designing in an echo chamber. A hollow tube.
I believe this is a result of not having framed the problem correctly, so I’ve been trying to adjust the way I think about it. The problem IS clear. People are limited by consumptive behavior, by networks that encourage that kind of online interaction, and by the reality that making isn’t easy and accessible enough. People are limited because too often technology presents options, but not possibilities. How do we open that door?
The problem isn’t specific and small. It is vast and deep. So I think the process just feels backwards because it is hard and because we must innovate.
I’m inspired by this post on mapping by Airbnb. They’ve made a case for a problem I’d bet most people didn’t know they had, and yet it is clear to see a compelling reason for pursuing the work. I hope someday soon we’ll be able to write as clear a problem and solution statement as this one.
What is fun about making?
I made a short list of qualities I’d like to see in this new Webmaker tool. Qualities I myself respond to in technology, on the web.
Note the question mark after useful. “Usefulness” is not necessarily what will compel me to use something. I certainly expect it to be usable, but not necessarily useful.
The thought occurred to me that one of my key understandings when it came to my design training (or learning to write better, or learning to make anything really be that with code or a sewing machine) is that artifacts are made of layers. Often people look at something and meet it head on, digesting it as a whole. As they should — that is the creator’s intention.
But when you are making something, or figuring out how to make something, it is necessary to break it down into digestible components. A design online is typically made of type, image, color, code, and movement or interaction. You can never address all those things at once or you will quickly fail by way of becoming overwhelmed. That is the human way. If I can sense something is off in my designs, for example, if it is not quite how I want it to be but I’m not sure why — I go through those ‘layers’ like a checklist: is the type right (and within that, the font itself, the hierarchy, etc)? is it the right image? are my colors appropriate?
Could we not teach ‘creating’ by starting with that insight — to demonstrate that everything has parts, and concentrating on one part at a time will bring gradual understanding that overtime results in the ability to build complex and interesting things?
Which brings me to another thought.
Teaching people to create online just through code is useful but it isn’t everything. We’ve said this a lot, but never acted on it decisively. I think too often we look at the methodology of teaching code because it has been done before, perhaps because it is more procedural and objective. Design has always been more of a walled garden. I’m excited to break that down; the opportunities to teach visual creation truly excite me.
Lots of ideas and inspiration from my colleagues appear to be coalescing. Gif maker. MakeDrive. Maker Fox and Maker Tools. Together.js. I am endlessly inspired, especially so because these amazing things are all real possibilities of what we can build. They’re already in progress.
Buiding on these things, and at the same time attempting to evolve and simplify, I follow my wandering thoughts.
Could we have a profile image creator, one that allows easy adaptability and individuality, one that creates an artifact that is at once applicable to the service you are already in (you could use it on your Webmaker profile) or reusable elsewhere (meet people where they are, make it easy to create a Facebook cover image).
We could separate learning components into layers and have guided lessons through each. There would be limited options, though. Creative constraints.
More complex interactions could occur elsewhere on the web, in other tools that already let you do those things. We would be training wheels that bridge the gap between beginners and advanced. Our tool would be a way to look at the details of the layers of things, to understand what those layers are, how to manipulate them, and we could do this because the constraints would be tight.
Or, could a tool like this exist solely on the backs of those layers – or palettes – themselves?
Could this be THE place that collects the things you like and make from around the web, the infrastructure that lets you remix those things in a real way by actually using them to build new content, that makes the reuse of ideas or colors or fonts or code snippets clearly serve as an act of making? Could this be a radical way of reasserting that content is king, that people share on Facebook because we like sharing so-be-it, but let’s reuse what we share to arrange it in interesting ways or comment on it more visually, or comment AS an act of creation?
All very abstract. None of it settling in an orderly fashion yet. Particles of dust falling from the seams of my thoughts. I’m sure it will come together at some point — an act of creative faith.
Check out my colleague Luke’s parallel work, let us know what you think.