Tools are like wines

The art of choosing wine as a lot of common with the art of choosing the right tools. In fact, there are two opposite attitudes for choosing a good tool. Each of these attitudes is rich in lessons.

The first attitude would be the one of the persuaded drinkers. This person has a list of favorites with which he plays and always picks a wine bottle in this top 5. With five wine, he can accommodate any situation. And he doesn’t have the trouble to find new ones. Of course, these wines are classics. Why would we bother to find new ones who would never match the quality of the classics?

The second attitude is the one of the picky drinkers. It’s a person who passes a great time reading about wines, testing new regional classics. Each event is a new opportunity to dig in his cave. There he finds the perfect match between many different wines. 

In the design world

Opposite successes

It’s quite funny to see that successful designers use both of these attitudes. Massimo Vignelli, one of the greatest designers of our time is a great example. He is famously known to use only 3 to 5 typefaces for the majority of his work. In the world where there a thousand of typefaces, this person decided to limit his choice to just three typefaces*. Vignelli designed, for example, the New-York subway signage system in Helvetica. This typeface was of course on his top-list. 
On the opposite side designers like Stefan Sagmeister work displays alway different typefaces.

In my personal experience fonts are for example always different. Why? Because, to me this choice is an opportunity to create a unique story. A story where we create for our clients a new recipe with the finest ingredients. Some of these ingredients are new, and some are classics. And here the font has a particular role. As Erik Spiekermann explains it, the typeface is one of the foundation brand identity. Even more today in the age of smartphones and always smaller displays (like watches). The two element that remain on small screens are the typefaces and the colors. 

In the tech the world

Frameworks and hackathons

Lastly, I worked with different coders. Here also you find highly «persuaded» people. Developers, for example, like to specialize themselves in a specific language or framework. In the tech world, this makes a lot of sense. You can’t switch to another language as easily as you change a typeface. The learning curve for a programming language is just on a different scales. 
Tech companies like to be the expert in their field and make it a competitive advantage. So we could think that the coders working there are focused. In a way they are. But through their personal projects and hackathons they test out new tools and technologies.

Focus versus curiosity

Finding the right balance

There are quite a few lessons that these profiles tell us. The first and clear one is that success doesn’t depend on the attitude you have for selecting tools. 

«You can be picky or persuaded this will not define how awesome you will be.» 

The second lesson is that there is a balance between focus and curiosity. And this balance can be a great advantage. That is maybe the most important lesson of this article.  Coders and tech company live this every day. On the professional level, they stay deeply focused on a set of defined tools. That’s what they sell. It makes it easy for customers to understand what they do and put them in boxes. It’s also a good way to deepen the skills of the team. But, these guys are super smart. They challenge their habits with hackathons. They use personal curiosity moments where they play with new toys. Here it’s not important if these new tools work or not. It’s the discovery that is interesting. And if one day they find something interesting, it can be a new focus for their company. 

« No matter what attitude you use for selecting tools, what matters is the balance between focus and curiosity. »

The third lesson is the one I have experimented myself in my work. It's the lesson that Spiekermann also describes. There are some tools that can matter to create a strong identity or story. Not all tools matter, but some do. What’s important is to know what choice of tool will matter in what context. That's what some people call Design Strategy is. Design Strategy is about knowing when to choose the classics and when to go for innovation. 

«There is a great sense of strategy in choosing when to be curious and when to be focused»

* N.B. Of course, Vignelli used in specific cases other typefaces. But whenever he could he stuck to his top 3, and he was proud of this state of mind.