Why Software Developers Need Artistic Training

One of the tools I use every day is a popular (ubiquitous) word processing application.  Given the huge user base and the decades of product development that have gone into this product, it amazes me that you can find user interface howlers, right up to this very day.

Consider the highlighting feature in this popular word processing application.  As people familiar with the real world know, the act of highlighting some text (with a highlighting pen, on paper) is done to draw attention to particularly important pieces of text within the body of a much larger section of text.  The function of highlighting is to make the highlighted text stand out, be easy to read and to convey the meaning of the highlighted text with crystal clarity to the reader.  It’s purpose is to increase legibility.

Most text in word processors is typed in black.  It’s by far and away the most popular colour for text.

Here are the highlighting colour options offered by this popular word processing programme and their effect on black text.

What do you notice?  What I notice is that the text highlighted is, in the majority of cases, less legible than it was before it was highlighted.  Using the highlighting feature actually does the opposite to what the author intended.

Here’s something else I notice, because I live in the real world.  Physical highlighters are available in a range of colours.  There’s a picture of a typical colour range further down this blog article.  Take a look at that colour range.

There are two shades of orange and two shades of pink.  All of the colours are pastel and they all render with transparency on the paper.

Now, go back to the colour choice offered by the popular word processing application.  How many pinks and oranges do you see?  Do they render with transparency or as solid, opaque colours behind the text?  There is also no option offered to make your own highlighter colours.  You are stuck with the ones the software developer provided.

Stuff like this amazes me.  Why would the software developer that implemented this feature not have copied the colour range of physically available highlighters?  Did they not understand the function of highlighters in aiding document legibility?  Why did they choose the colours they did?  Were they particular favourites, or just something randomly cooked up at their desk?

To me, this shows a dramatic failure to empathise with real world people trying to communicate using the tool.  It demonstrates a complete lack of taste and aesthetic judgement.

It speaks volumes about why software developers need to spend time learning to be artists.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: https://michaeltopic.wordpress.com/. There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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